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Max Wingen (2002)

A New Plea for a Demographically-Aware Family Policy*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 27, 1/2002, p. 69-85, Opladen: Verlag Leske + Budrich, ISSN: 0340-2398, ISSN: 0340-2398

Two points were sufficient to offer us the starting point for all the following considerations. Firstly: The birth rate in Germany is too low, measured against a demographic general interest orientated in line with the common good; but the political debate concerning the possibilities of acting against this is extremely unsatisfactory. Secondly: There is a fundamental right for all people and couples to decide freely, on their own responsibility and with all the information at their disposal, as to the number of their children (which may be none). This right is protected by the Basic Law, and precisely this implies that the state has the right and the duty to reduce the barriers which may obstruct the fulfilment of this wish to have children. This is a fundamental task of family policy, which takes on a demographic dimension in the context of the fact that the population is ageing. This however does not expressly mean a family policy which encroaches on couples' individual decision-making processes, but one which instead helps couples to have the number of children they want. For this reason, the article at hand should be seen as a plea for a demographically-aware family policy without using it as a population policy tool in the classical sense of the word, by which the desire to have children and the fulfilment of that desire are determined externally.

Family policy has long since entered the area of tension between individual decisions and the existing social context, and therefore must seek concepts which create a framework in which people can live with children in families. Political decision-makers should not let themselves be led here by the hypothesis occasionally put forward by demographers that family policy cannot contribute towards shaping living conditions in order to make generative decisions easier. A policy that is successful in this sense is conditional on systematically integrating a holistic family policy into social policy. This article introduces the basic elements of such a policy.

The demographic process – including trends in births – is not a predestined process which must be accepted as a turn of fate. Political decision-makers should hence have the will to create a truly sustainable policy which enables couples to actually make use of their freedom, with fewer conflicts, and take decisions responsibly as parents under acceptable conditions – with "common sense and decency" as it was described in discussions on demographic science as long as fifty years ago.

* Original title: Ein erneutes Plädoyer für eine bevölkerungsbewusste Familienpolitik (full text in German only)

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