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From the Memorandum by the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs on "The Reasons for Our Declining Birth Rate" (1957)

In this 1957 memorandum, the Federal Ministry for Family Affairs took up the question of why a society in the midst of the “Economic Miracle” was experiencing a declining birth rate. The memo concluded that in an industrialized society, families with numerous children faced a higher risk of poverty. In addition, there was a lack of adequate living space. But the memo also highlighted the trend toward consumption and the rise in individual living standards, the growing participation of women in the workforce, modern methods of birth control, the loss of millions of potential fathers through the war, and the growing divorce rate.

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The reasons for the declining birth rate

A. The changed economic situation of the family:
The … findings – the lower the income, the lower the number of children in general – clearly reveal that one main reason for the drop in births is the changed economic situation of the family in industrialized society. In pre-industrial times, the family enterprise was for the most part the foundation of the economic order. It gave the family and all its members – including grandparents and the large number of children who remained single in the system at the time – full economic security. Back then, the saying was true: The more children, the greater the family’s economic power.

In short order, this system was radically altered by the emergence of the industrial economy and its division of labor. While previously the mass of the population lived and worked in the secure shelter of the family enterprise, today nearly 80% of our working people are employed in outside enterprises. One element of this new economic order is performance pay, which, as such, is the same for single men and family fathers. With this, the principle that once applied to the family in the previous economic order seems to have been inverted. It now says: The more children, the greater the family’s economic problems. [ . . . ]

B. Overvaluation of the living standard:
The overvaluation of the living standard undoubtedly numbers among the motivations for deliberately keeping the family small. Here, we see the interplay of Intellectual and economic developments. Individualism, with its often excessively lopsided emphasis on the rights of the individual person, led to a situation in which marriage was widely seen not so much as a social institution in the sense of the Christian churches, but more as a means of perfecting one’s own personality by way of the partner. As a consistent further extension of this notion, the individual is less inclined to make sacrifices for children and to forego a part of his standard of living in favor of the coming generation. The development of the economy accommodated this attitude. The rapid surge in the supply of consumer goods in the last decades, reinforced by ever more effective advertising options, has made it seem to many that the possession of these goods is more valuable than the possession of children. That is especially true for Germany, where during two World Wars and their aftermath, a demand built up in one generation that is now being satisfied. It is to be expected, however, that – much like in America, where the described development can be seen a few decades earlier – a kind of satiety will occur among us as well. The extraordinary rise in births that can be observed in America in the last few years, as well as the increasing interiorization of life, especially family life, that sociologists have simultaneously identified in that country, give reason to expect that among us, as well, the overvaluation of the standard of living will not last.

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