‘Two children to make ends meet’: the ideal family size, parental responsibilities and costs of children on two sides of the Iron Curtain during the post-war fertility decline

Yuliya Hilevych, Caroline Rusterholz

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

Abstract

One of the major corollaries of the post-war fertility boom and decline is that two-child families became common across Europe after the 1970s. Despite the general agreement on the convergence of fertility trends, there is still little understanding of how this change took place in a comparative perspective of Western and Eastern Europe, which at that time were characterised by Cold War tensions of different ideological regimes. This study addresses this aspect by focusing on individual decisions around childbearing, child-rearing and family size. Based on 104 oral histories from Switzerland and Ukraine, this study illuminates that the urban setting provided parents with a similar set of constraints and opportunities, which eventually resulted in strikingly similar perceptions of the costs of childrearing on two sides of the Iron Curtain. Individuals’ motives to postpone first birth in Switzerland and second birth in Ukraine rested on a similar aspiration to invest in the well-being of children by ensuring material security for the family. This aim was increasingly achieved through female labour-force participation and adoption of modern contraception – the pill in Switzerland and abortion in Ukraine. While the timing of returning to the labour market and the share of women working after entering parenthood might have varied across the two contexts, a good mother became increasingly defined in both contexts in terms of providing emotionally and financially for her children. Although the introduction of modern birth control methods allowed couples to plan family size more carefully, it also made Swiss and Ukrainian women increasingly carry the major costs and actual burden of birth control. Altogether, this study challenges the common assumption around the persistence of strikingly different demographic realities in post-war Western and Eastern Europe by uncovering the mechanisms behind the stabilisation of family size around the two-child family ideal.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)408-425
JournalThe History of the Family
Volume23
Issue number3
Early online date23 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

Keywords

  • birth control
  • child-rearing
  • family size
  • fertility decline
  • Western and Eastern Europe
  • Cold War

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of '‘Two children to make ends meet’: the ideal family size, parental responsibilities and costs of children on two sides of the Iron Curtain during the post-war fertility decline'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this