The Leibniz Institute for Regional Geography in Leipzig reported this week that the number of “illegitimate” children in eastern Germany averages 57 percent compared to only 25 percent in the west.
In parts of the southern German states of Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg – known as Catholic strongholds – only 15 percent of children were born outside of marriage. But in the northeastern state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, some regions showed a whopping 70 percent of births outside of wedlock.
The study said finding an explanation for such a divide is difficult to pinpoint, since even before 1945 there were recognisable differences between eastern and western family structures. While religion may affect statistics, researchers believe the most influential factor was the family policy of communist East Germany, which offered more support for unmarried mothers. In contrast, the West German tax system favoured married couples with children.
The researchers stressed, however, that the increase in the number of children born out of wedlock cannot be equated with a rising amount of single mothers. The majority of unmarried German women with children also live with a partner. In both the east and west, issues such as age and education continue to be the influential factors in single-parent households.
And despite the huge east-west discrepancy, Germany seems united in one respect: the number of parents deciding to forego marriage has been on the rise in both western and eastern Germany for a number of years.