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The Fertility of Migrants and Minorities in Europe

Christoph Bühler (Leibniz Universität Hannover), Bianca Brünig (Leibniz Universität Hannover)

In Europe, many migrant populations and their subsequent generations as well as 'old' minorities show patterns and levels of fertility that are different from the ones' of majority populations. Under a comparative perspective and on the background of sociological assimilation theories, the determinants of reproduction of these different minorities are analyzed.  

The project investigates the fertility of European minorities, both of ‘new’ migration-based minorities and ‘old’ minorities that emerged due to migration before World War II or new or geographically altered nation states. Research on this topic is motivated by two general reasons. 

(1) There is an emerging discussion about the impact of ongoing immigration to Europe on the character of the European population. This discussion is not primarily motivated by the fact that migrants significantly contribute to Europe’s population growth, but by – compared to European natives – high levels of fertility of first and subsequent migrant generations. In order to evaluate possible pathways of population development in Europe, determinants of migrant fertility have to be understood. Up to now, this topic is not systematically and deeply studied.

(2) Research on long-term developments of migrant fertility in Europe faces the problem that the reproduction only of the first, second, and very young third generation can be observed. Under this condition, insights into the determinants of the fertility of ‘old’ European minorities would be beneficial. Many of these populations are in a minority situation since generations, but their levels of fertility are hardly equal to the ones of their countries’ majority populations. Despite this fact, the fertility of ‘old’ European minorities was rarely addressed up to now.

Given these gaps in the current landscape of research, the project addresses the determinants of European minorities in general. Theories on assimilation provide the theoretical framework for this purpose. Minorities systematically differ from majority populations. These differences can be smaller or larger, they can be permanently or temporarily, and they can be settled in one or various living domains. Assimilation addresses the stepwise disappearance but also the continuation of these differences, particularly in the domains of culture, socio- economic structure, personal social environments, and individual identification. These domains, however, also cover central factors of fertility, like gender roles, values related to children and the family, occupational situations, education, income prospects, or normative expectations by others. Assimilation theory, therefore, links the culture, living conditions, developmental prospects, and selfperceptions of minority members with their patterns and levels of reproduction.

In order to utilize assimilation theory for explanations of minority fertility, fertility is not perceived as an individual event, but as a process consisting of different stages of conscious but not necessarily rational decision-making and behavior. Each stage is influenced by different factors, like culture, family background, one’s position in the lifecycle, socio-economic conditions, or social relationships. This perspective increases the complexity of the analysis of minority fertility, but it enables a separation of cultural and socio-economic determinants and provides a more detailed understanding how assimilation influences the reproduction of minorities.

The project intends to receive a general picture of the determinants of European minority fertility. Thus, an international comparative research perspective is applied, as ‘old’ and ‘new‘ minority populations are spread all over Europe, show a large heterogeneity of assimilation, and are located in countries with different cultural, social, economic, and political systems.