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Jens Ehrhardt & Martin Kohli, Individualisation and Fertility [Abstract]

In this paper, we discuss indi­vidualisation theory as a parsimonious framework concept to describe and explain core points of fertility change in Western societies since the end of the 19th century. We emphasise two dimensions of individualisation: firstly, the increase in status of the individual in cultural, social, economic and legal respects (human dignity); secondly, the increase in autonomy and freedom of choice. In contrast to other approaches based on individualisation theory, we do not use the concept of self-realisation in the sense of an increased orientation towards purely individual interests, not least because this concept has failed before the renewed rise in fertility that has recently been observed in some advanced societies. We discuss the relevance of these two dimensions of individualisation in the context of the first transition and the 1960s with its declining fertility rates. Whereas the first demographic transition can be mainly explained by the rising status of children, which increased the costs of parenting and thus changed the interests of (potential) parents to have children, the transition in the 1960s resulted mainly from the rising status of women in education and the labour market. An important but hitherto neglected change was the increasing divorce rates, as the possibility to dissolve a marriage devalued the traditional gender contract of the breadwinner/housewife model and decreased the willingness of women and men to invest in marriage and children. The contrast between the recently growing fertility rates in Sweden, France and the US with the continuously low fertility in the German-speaking countries can partly be seen as a result of different divorce regimes. Whereas the first group of countries has limited the entitlement to spousal support through alimonies, the second group has institutionalised extensive entitlements for mothers.