Journal Article

Spatial variation of sub-national fertility trends in Austria, Germany and Switzerland

Basten, S., Huinink, J., Klüsener, S.

Comparative Population Studies, 36:2-3, 573-614 (2011)


Keywords: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, fertility, spatial analysis


Sub-national trends in fertility are of great importance for policy makers and regional planners. This paper aims to provide a theoretical and empirical framework for policy makers, taking into account past and present trends in fertility, as well as their theoretical underpinnings. These will, we argue, be crucial in determining future trajectories and potential political responses to them. The theoretical part of the paper deals with the factors that may influence fertility differences at the sub-national level, including decisions and life course trajectories at the individual level, as well as contextual socio-economic phenomena operating at different geographical levels (local, regional, national, global). This is followed by an empirical section, which takes the Eurostat publications on spatial fertility differences in Europe as a starting point. In an attempt to overcome the limitations of these reports—both in terms of the lack of geographic detail and the short time span covered—we provide more thorough overviews for Austria, Germany and Switzerland. Using historical data from the Princeton European Fertility Project and other sources, we have been able to reconstruct comparative regional fertility time series for the past 150 years. Finally, we present a case study on local fertility development in the municipalities and unified rural communities of the German state of Lower Saxony and the districts of the German city of Bremen. Based on the results of this analysis, we conclude that the recent degree of fertility convergence between regions within countries—particularly at the macro-regional level—is, indeed, striking. However, taking a long-term perspective, we are able to identify some substantial time periods over the last 150 years in which regional fertility levels diverged. This implies that the current picture must not necessarily constitute Fukuyama’s ‘end of history’ over the coming decades. Moreover, the study of local-level data reveals that, in contrast to the overall macro-regional fertility convergence process in all three countries, a trend towards divergence can be observed within the city of Bremen. This demonstrates that local divergence can run parallel to overall regional convergence.