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The ‘meaning’ of children in Dutch and German family policy

Childhood: Changing Contexts

ISBN: 978-0-7623-1419-5, eISBN: 978-1-84950-533-8

Publication date: 14 April 2008


At the end of the 20th century, birth-rates had fallen below the replacement rate in many Western countries. Changing attitudes towards having children had resulted in very small families, even in childlessness, giving rise to the Vienna Institute of Demography analyzing EUROSTAT data on the most common reasons for Europeans between the ages of 18 and 39 being childless. Almost half of these young adults (48 per cent) said they did not want children because they had general concerns about the future; another 46 per cent lacked a steady partner, while 44 per cent reported enjoying the current childless lifestyle and believed it would be difficult to fit in children; more than a third of these young(er) adults feared the loss of leisure time. ‘Harder’ facts, such as the expense of having children and job pressures, seemed to matter less for the childless respondents, albeit still more than a third of them gave such reasons (quoted in Theil, 2006, p. 54). Concerns about the future, lifestyle and steady partnership outweigh other worries. The expense of having children, work commitments and related problems in balancing work and family may be further reasons for delaying or foregoing family formation, but are not of prime importance. Societies intent on encouraging young people to have children, and at a younger age, must take both concerns into account, i.e. invent a broad discourse on policies for children and families and at the same time design wide-ranging policies. Do they deliver? Can they deliver?


Knijn, T. and Ostner, I. (2008), "The ‘meaning’ of children in Dutch and German family policy", Leira, A. and Saraceno, C. (Ed.) Childhood: Changing Contexts (Comparative Social Research, Vol. 25), Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 79-110.



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