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Pluralization of Forms of Living (1995)

Since the 1960s, the federal government has presented regular reports on the status of the family in Germany. The fifth report offers an overview of household and family structures in unified Germany. The report takes stock of differences and commonalities in the development of family structures in East and West.

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IV. Changing Family Models
1. Introduction

Over the past ten years there has been a de facto quantitative increase in different family models in the Federal Republic of Germany. But if one looks not at the last ten, but rather at the last forty years, then the statistical trend is not as linear as is often assumed but appears wavelike instead.

The period after the Second World War was characterized by a particularly high regard for the family, since it promised orientation and stability after the collapse of Nazism and the hardship of the immediate postwar years. Nevertheless, even on a statistical level, the repercussions of war and the immediate postwar period could be seen until 1950, for example, in the high number of divorces, single mothers, step families, and in the high rate of extramarital cohabitation. Not until the period from early 1950 to the early or mid-1960s was there – statistically speaking – an especially family-oriented phase. It was characterized by an increase in marriages, birth surpluses, a rise in families with three children, a preponderance of households with three or more members, and, finally, very low divorce rates. The “middle-class family model” of the traditional marriage with a stay-at-home wife enjoyed unprecedented popularity at that time.

In the 1960s, however, there was a cultural liberalization of gender relations, which, in conjunction with the availability of more effective and user-friendly contraceptives and the growing demands of younger women for equal rights, triggered sweeping behavioral changes among the younger generations. Starting in the mid-1960s, this shift in the trend could also be observed statistically. The marriage trend abated, the number of two-generation families with one or two children increased, as did divorce figures and the percentage of single mothers.

The Dominance of the Traditional Family Model

Despite the numerical increase in other family models (one-parent families, step families, etc), the traditional two-parent family (with a formal marriage ceremony) continues to be the dominant family model in our society, quantitatively speaking (accounting for 83 percent of all families, according to data from the 1992 Statistical Yearbook). Subjective appreciation for this family model in no way waned (compare, for example, Köcher 1985; Schumacher 1988; Kaufmann 1990; Schneewind et al. 1992). On the basis of empirical studies, at least for the Federal Republic of Germany, we can say that, in the case of childless marriages (Nave-Herz 1988a), one-parent families (Napp-Peters 1985; Nave-Herz/Krüger 1992), and so-called singles (Krüger 1990), most did not choose their present living form as a conscious alternative to the traditional two-parent family, and that these cases should mostly be considered “failed two-parent families.”

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