Always in the papers in Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, Greece or Portugal: too few children are born. If those countries would not have immigration, it would be much lower. Population shrinks.
What is the matter? The „Value of Children“ approach tries to answer this question. Starting already in the seventies of the last century but being more and more developed until modern times, mainly by sociologist Bernhard Nauck.
The Value of Children approach is based on the assumption that children have three advantages for parents: economic, psychological and social ones. To realize the value, one needs opportunity structures, one needs an environment open for living one’s values. Or propositions who are in benefit or in misfit for having children.
It is an economic value when people need children to take care for the elderly, when they contribute either income or as labour force in their family. As a consequence, it makes sense to have more children. The more children you have the better you will be cared for when you are in old age, the better for the wealth of the house. More children add to the economic value. Economic values prevail in countries with higher economic risk and less wealthiness, as Nauck found out. They have a higher fertility rate internationally. This would not explain the differences in Europe, where wealthy countries like Sweden have more births than poorer countries like Spain.
Psychological reasons come in and dominate.
Psychological well being means emotional contact, emotional relations. Children give love, it makes fun to see them growing up. Children enrich you personality, your social competence, your everyday live. It is simple: you love them. But you can not spread these affections to a lot of children, one or two, maybe three perhaps, but not in the same way to six, seven, eight, nine, ten. That is why if psychological values for children prevail in a society, the tendency is to have less children.
Thirdly the value of children is formed by social normative expectations. What does a society see as an appropriate amount of children for parents? Could you raise your social position in having more children or are you looked at strangely if you have more than two children? Would you be rather seen as a responsible parent in raising many children or rather seen as irresponsible, as you can hardly devote the same amount of affection and attention to all the children? That influences the choice. In Germany researcher asked people with how many children they would consider families as large: those with four and more children, people answered. And they were very ambivalent on this – do not families with many children drive the family to poverty? Can they really care for such a crowd?
In the modern western world usually the psychological argument for children prevails, as well as the „responsible parenthood“ asking for spending a lot of attention to the child.
But it is not easy as that to explain the high or low fertility rate.
Opportunity structures matter too.
Living opportunities like adequate housing, available jobs, preferably part time for mothers, Kindergarten for pre-school children, cradles for toddlers, all this in reachable maybe walkable distance, parental leave systems, friends and grandparents who can care for, educational careers: – how long do you have to study before you get a job? – Yes, and finally, but not essentially in the middle tax reductions and direct one transfers.
Is the man in a breadwinner system able to find a job with enough income to raise a family? What is considered as enough income and what role does the lifestyle of the parents-to-be play? How does higher and lower education contribute to the income of the family and the value of children?
The output measure is very simple: Fertility rate usually measured as the births of woman in between 15 and 49 in a country. The background very specific and complex. Culture matters, tradition matters. And those are very diffuse concepts, difficult to measure.
What to do from family policy size? I would suggest not to fight the fertility rate, not to implement measures with the intention that people get more children but to work for a society that provides equal life chances for people with different lifestyles – children will be born.
[See for example: Bernhard Nauck, Value of children and the social production of welfare. Demographic Research, Vol 30, pp 1793-1824.]