Media Briefings


  • Published Date: April 2013

Children born to parents in the former East Germany between 1991 and 1993 are at least 50% more likely to be criminals than children born in the rest of Germany and at other times. This is because fertility in East Germany fell dramatically following the fall of the Berlin Wall and of those women who did have children, an unusually high proportion were young, uneducated and unmarried.


These are the central findings of research by Arnaud Chevalier and Olivier Marie,presented at the Royal Economic Society’s 2013 annual conference. Their study looks at the effect of the fall of the Berlin Wall in late 1989, an event that led to an unprecedented peacetime fall in the birth rate in former East Germany – by almost 50% for three years.


The authors compare children born to East German parents between 1991 and 1993 with children born to West German parents where there was no fall in the birth rate and yet, due to the reunification of Germany, the parents and children experienced similar economic and social factors.


The authors find that the fall in fertility in former East Germany was because many women chose not to have children. This meant that among those women who did have children after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was an unusually high concentration of women who didnt want to have children – mothers who were on average younger, less educated, unmarried and less likely to have good parenting skills.


The authors argue that this explains why the criminal behaviour of the ‘children of the Wall (those born in East Germany between 1991 and 1993) is much worse than would otherwise be expected. The research estimates that from as young as 8 years old, these children had arrest rates at least 50% higher than those born elsewhere and they are over-represented in the total criminal population by more than two thirds.


The study also finds that by the age of 17, the ‘Children of the Wall’ had received a similar education to children elsewhere but they reported significantly worse emotional relationships with their parents. The authors interpret this as indicating that child misbehaviour is strongly linked with a lack of emotional attachment from their parents.


As further evidence of the link between parents and their children, the authors point out that women who gave birth just after the end of communism in East Germany are much more willing to take risks and this is also true for their children.


The research sheds light on the controversial issue of fertility decisions, suggesting that if parents are not actively choosing to have children, then it dramatically increases the risk of problems for the children as they grow up. The authors comment:


Our results confirm that parental selection may be perhaps the best predictor of the future criminality of a cohort.




Selectivity into parenthood (the fertility decision) is perhaps what can have the strongest impact on a childs future outcomes, such as participation in crime. This studyexplores how the choice of certain individuals to become parents during very troubled socio-economic times is linked to the offending behaviour of their children later in life.


Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall in late 1989, the number of births, in what used to be the Democratic Republic of Germany (East Germany), dropped by almost 50%over a three-year period, an unprecedented peacetime event. Thereafter, the birth rate went back to trend.


This event provides an observation of a much larger fertility drop than in previous studies, over a precisely defined location and short period of time. It is also possible toobserve outcomes for cohorts born in the same years in former West Germany, who, due to the subsequent reunification, were exposed to the same policy environment when growing up but were not affected by this fertility shock. This homogenous control group makes it possible to set the analysis in a difference-in-difference setting.


The researchers first clearly document the massive drop in birth rate observed in East Germany and analysis of individual data points to strong evidence of negative selection into motherhood. Women who gave birth during this period of economic and political uncertainties were on average younger, less educated and more likely to be unmarried mothers. These are typical traits associated with lower parental skills’, which lead their children to display worse outcomes on various socio-economic measures, including criminal participation.


The study shows that the offending behaviour of the ‘children of the Wall’ (those born in East Germany between 1991 and 1993) is much worse than could be expected. Fromthe age of eight onwards, they exhibit arrest rates at least 50% higher than comparable peers and they are over-represented by more than two-thirds in the arrestee population given their cohort size.


The research results confirm that parental selection may be perhaps the best predictor of the future criminality of a cohort. The large coefficients obtained may even be underestimates considering that the impact of this negative fertility selection should have been partly mediated by the smaller cohort size.


To understand the mechanisms by which negative parental selection affects criminal behaviour, the researchers investigate how different the treated children are in terms of their individual characteristics. At age 17, the children of the Wall are relatively similar to their peers in terms of broad educational attainment measures, but they report significantly worse emotional relationships with their parents.


The researchers interpret this as indicating that child misbehaviour is most strongly influenced by a lack of parental emotional attachment. To further investigate underlying mechanisms, the study considers the risk attitude of mothers and children, which may have a strong impact on both fertility and offending decisions.


They find that the women who gave birth just after the end of communism in East Germany are much more willing to take risk and this is also true for their children. This fits well with recent evidence on the intergenerational transmission of risk attitudes and is perhaps one of the crucial pieces in understanding the fertility-crime relationship puzzle.






RES media consultant Romesh Vaitilingam:

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