Why is the Afghanistan's birth rate so high?

German conditions. A social studies

Stefan Hradil

Stefan Hradil, born in Frankenthal (Palatinate) in 1946, was Professor of Sociology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz from 1991 to 2011. After studying sociology, political science and Slavic philology at the University of Munich (1968-1973), he worked from 1974 to 1989 as a research assistant at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Munich. Doctorate in 1979 and habilitation in 1985 at the University of Munich. From 1989 to 1990 professor for social structure analysis at the University of Bamberg. Stefan Hradil received an honorary doctorate from the University of Economics in Budapest in 1994, was chairman of the German Society for Sociology from 1995 to 1998, has been chairman of the Schader Foundation in Darmstadt since 2001 and a member of the Academy of Sciences and Literature Mainz since 2006. The main focus of work is social structure analysis, also in an international comparison, social inequality, social milieus and lifestyles, social change.

While life expectancy was short in pre-industrial societies, it has risen steadily since then. At that time, children were seen primarily as a pension and as a labor force. Today the living conditions have completely changed. The standard of living of families decreases with the birth of each child and with it the willingness to raise several children.

Life expectancy and mortality

In pre-industrial societies, people's life expectancy was short (see: Bolte / Kap / Schmidt 1980: 45 ff.). In 1700 it was no more than 30 years for newborns. Many children died early because the diet was often poor, the hygiene poor and the medical care poor. However, life expectancy fluctuated strongly at that time depending on regional and temporal conditions. Peace and good harvests meant long life, wars and epidemics brought early death.

General life expectancy in Germany began to rise around 1750. In the following century, better nutrition and medical advances ensured longer and longer lives. But as late as 1875, men in the German Empire did not exceed a life expectancy of 35 years and women 38 years.

Development of the life expectancy of newborns since 1871/1881 (& copy Federal Statistical Office)
Then, towards the end of the 19th century, child mortality fell sharply. The population got younger. In the first half of the 20th century, middle-aged mortality also fell. Because living and working conditions became better, and the major infectious diseases could be combated more and more effectively. Mortality in old age could only be decisively reduced after the Second World War thanks to advances in (expensive) geriatric medicine and improved financial care for the elderly (Höhn 1997; 2000).

The life expectancy of men and women increased to 45 and 48 years before the First World War and rose to around 60 and 63 years respectively by the Second World War. At the end of the post-war period, in 1973, parents of a newborn could already expect their boy to be 68 and their girl to be 74 years old. In 2000, the life expectancy of newborns was already 75 and 81 years. So there has been a steady increase in lifespan. This helped to age society.


If one disregards regional differences and temporal fluctuations, in the Middle Ages and early modern times every woman in what is now Germany gave birth to an average of six children alive (cf. Bolte / Kap / Schmidt 1980: 42 ff .; Hradil 2006: 47 ff.). This is more than four times as many births as today [1].

While mortality in Germany and most Western European countries declined faster and faster as early as the 18th century and then in the 19th century, the average number of children per woman remained consistently high until around 1875. Yes, the birth rate increased at times because many marriage restrictions fell. As a result, there was a real explosion in the population in the course of the 19th century.

In 1875, every woman gave birth to almost five children. It was only from then on, long after the decline in mortality, that the number of children in German families began to decline. At first they went back slowly, then faster and faster, first in the city and among the bourgeoisie, then after the First World War also among the peasants and workers. It was not until 1934, when every woman had an average of 1.8 children, that this first decline in the birth rate in Germany came to an end. This fall in the number of children was much lower than the second fall in the birth rate after World War II.

Fewer children were born in the interwar period than were necessary in the long term to maintain the population. In modern societies, this requires around 2.1 children per woman. The birth rate fluctuated from then until the end of World War II, but basically did not change.

"Baby Boom" and "Pill Break"

After that, many births were "made up" in Germany and many other countries that the war had made impossible. In addition, the optimistic mood of the time and the "economic miracle" led to a "baby boom": in West Germany, the birth rate rose from 2.1 to 2.5 children per woman from 1952 to the mid-1960s. The population began to grow again.

Average number of children per woman
From 1965 to 1975 there was the much-discussed "pill break". People in Germany reduced the number of their children from 2.5 to 1.4 per woman in just ten years. Contrary to what is often claimed, nothing significant has changed in this birth rate in West Germany to this day. Since the mid-1970s, only about two-thirds of children have been born that would be necessary in the long term if the population were to be kept constant.

Up until around 1975 there was hardly any difference in the birth rate in West and East Germany. The GDR also experienced a "baby boom" and a "pill break". After that, the government of the GDR strongly promoted family education, above all through direct measures such as cash donations and paid leave of absence for mothers from gainful employment. The birth rate rose to 1.8 children per woman at the beginning of the 1980s. After that, the effects of these measures slowly fizzled out, and by the time of reunification the birth rate in East Germany was almost as low as in West Germany. This confirmed many demographic scientists in their opinion that direct state measures to promote births - as opposed to indirect ones - tend to bring forward births that are already planned rather than additional births.

Change in living conditions and the desire to have children

Anyone who thinks about the future of the birth rate and how it can be influenced should know the causes of the first (approx. 1875 to 1925) and second (1965 to 1974) decline in births.
Both declines in births arose because living conditions became rarer than before For had spoken numerous births. Since the end of the 19th century, their own children have been required less and less for old-age security and as labor. The low child mortality rate no longer forces parents to have many children because it was to be expected that only a few would survive. After all, the prevailing social values ​​(including those of the churches since the 1960s) no longer propagate a maximum number of children, but rather the ideal of "responsible parenting".

Also, living conditions were more common that against Children talk. The world of work, career paths and the housing market are "structurally ruthless" (F. X. Kaufmann) towards children in industrial societies. The standard of living of families decreases with the birth of each child and with it the willingness to raise several children.

The second decline in the birth rate is called the "pill break". But this name is wrong. The availability of the "pill" only made it easier to realize the desire for fewer children that had grown since the 1960s. The real causes of the second decline in the birth rate were the changed preferences of people, a result of the rapid increase in prosperity, which made the value of self-realization and individual autonomy more important, especially for women. The associated desire to work and the poor opportunities to combine work and family caused the number of children to decline at the time. Finally, a fear of the future that had been growing since the 1970s (due to environmental problems, nuclear energy risks and military armament) dampened the desire for children.