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Attitudes toward maternal employment divide East and West, young and old

Should mothers of young children cut back on their careers? Should women prefer to take care of their families rather than their careers? Should men stay out of the housework? Attitudes toward such role models still differ significantly in East and West Germany 30 years after reunification. For the first time, a study using longitudinal data sheds light on how attitudes have developed over the past ten years and to what extent East-West differences are still relevant for younger generations. Contrary to expectations, even the younger post-reunification generation still shows clear East-West differences in their role perceptions.

Dr. Gundula Zoch, a researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories in Bamberg, used longitudinal data to investigate the extent to which East and West Germans still differ in their role models. For her analysis, she used data from the pairfam (Panel Analysis of Intimate Relationships and Family Dynamics) panel. The original approximately 12,000 participants have been surveyed once a year since 2008 on topics such as partnership, attitudes and family life. For the study, Zoch compares three birth cohorts of East and West Germans born in the early 1970s, 1980s and 1990s and thus raised under very different conditions.

Maternal employment divides East and West, young and old
Even 30 years after reunification, role models in East and West still differ significantly: East Germans on average endorse somewhat more modern role models than West Germans. Although attitudes that men should participate in housework just as much as women are quite close in East and West Germany, the greatest difference is seen in the assessment of the employment of women with small children. While attitudes toward this in the West have become more modernized over the years, thus aligning with the more egalitarian attitudes of the East, the analysis revealed surprising results for the youngest age group surveyed: both in the West and in the East, the group born between 1990 and 1993 shows significantly more traditional attitudes toward maternal employment than older respondents. The more traditional attitudes of younger East Germans are probably due to the increased part-time work of mothers and the reduction of childcare places during the post-reunification period.

Approval of maternal employment rises sharply, especially among younger people
Based on the annual survey, it was also possible for the first time to examine the extent to which the role models of individual persons have changed over the past 10 years. The results show that younger respondents in particular have changed their attitudes more than older respondents in light of new experiences and life events. Meanwhile, the youngest generation in East and West differs least from each other in their attitudes.

Living conditions more important than origin
A large part of the observed differences in attitudes between East and West can be traced back to differences in living conditions. For example, more women in western Germany still work part-time, there are more people there with an immigrant background and more people with a religious background than in the east. All these characteristics strongly influence general attitudes toward traditional role models. But even when these differences are taken into account, older East and West Germans in particular differ in their attitudes toward maternal employment.

"The East-West differences have visibly reduced in a very short time window of just under 10 years. Especially in West Germany, significant changes can be observed in what used to be rather traditional role models. These changes in attitudes, especially with regard to women's employment, are certainly also related to the strong expansion of childcare options for children under the age of three in western Germany," says Gundula Zoch.


The full report on the study can also be found at


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