How have changes in household structures and family policies affected the rise of family poverty since the 1970’s? A multilevel analysis of the German Microcensuses 1976-2009

Mara Boehle, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz

Since the 1970s, income inequality and subsequently income poverty has increased considerably in (West) Germany. Families, most notably single parent families, have been at a particularly risk of poverty. However, systematic analyses of the long-term development of family poverty are lacking to date. My paper therefore addresses the following questions: (1) Is the increase in family poverty since the 1970s due to increases of poverty-inducing factors within family households? (2) Which changes in family policies explain the rise in family poverty? Firstly, I propose that increases in family poverty can be attributed to the changing composition of households with or without children (composition effects). In addition, the structural conditions of family life have undergone massive changes over the last forty years (context effects). In order to estimate the influence of both types of effects, data from multiple levels are combined. The micro level information is provided by cumulated data from the 1976-2009 German Microcensuses. Macro level indicators are calculated on the basis of the Microcensus or extracted from official statistics. Hypotheses are tested using multilevel models. The paper shows that the increased likelihood of poverty for families is mainly due to their lower employment intensity (when compared to the childless) and the migration process since the 1970s. We further find significant effects of family allowances and childcare provisions, with much more powerful effects for single mothers than for couple families. We show that childcare operates through boosting families’ employment intensity, illustrating from a social change perspective that increases in work-family policies are useful for reducing lone mothers’ poverty effectively by enhancing their employment.

Presented in Session 119: Demographic change, social networks and quality of life