Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - DYNAMICS

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | Department of Social Sciences | DYNAMICS | Research Agenda | Pillar 3: Public Policy and its effect on Demographic Behaviour

Pillar 3: Public Policy and its effect on Demographic Behaviour

ÏIn this research pillar, we examine how public policies affect demographic development by studying the effect of public policies on family and employment behaviour, old age poverty, old age care, retirement behaviour as well as the societal integration of migrants.




Demographic change influences public policy, but public policy also has profound effects on demographic behaviour. To design policies that can effectively address demographic challenges, policy-makers have to rely on information about the relationship between policy measures and their consequences for demographic outcomes. However, scholars of democratic processes and public policy largely exclude the question how policy outputs translate into policy outcomes, despite the crucial importance to understand whether policy reforms designed to address demographic challenges actually achieve the intended goals. For example with regard to population aging, governments have enacted policy reforms to increase retirement ages, mainly retrenchment of pension benefits, with varying degrees of success and yet unknown consequences for older workers’ health and well-being (Fasang 2012; Jaime-Castillo 2013; OECD 2014; Hofäcker, Hess & König 2016). Persistent mortality differentials and recently increasing mortality among some social groups even in affluent democracies (Case & Deaton 2015, 2017; Van Raalte et al. 2011) have sparked debates about the efficiency and coverage of health care systems. Similarly, in the realm of family policies, many countries have enacted reforms to facilitate work and family compatibility and to increase national birth rates (European Union 2014). Little is known, however, on whether these policies impacted demographic behavior and how patterns differ across population subgroups. Demographic pressures of persistent sub-replacement fertility and population aging have induced a paradigm shift towards migration policies that seek to attract high-skilled workers (Koopmans 2016). Controversies about policies that restrict or encourage immigration culminate with regard to the most recent refugee waves to Europe, whose consequences and determinants scholars are just beginning to systematically assess. Not only the number and composition of migrants are determined by public policies, but also pathways to integration, in particular access to education, the labour market and social welfare. Furthermore, there are concerns that welfare state generosity may work as a “magnet” to immigrants in particular for low or unskilled migrants.This research pillar systematically examines the impact of public policies on family and fertility, retirement patterns and the behavior of migrant populations.  

First, research in this pillar will analyse how the effect of public policies varies by population subgroups. Several studies have examined the effect of public policies on retirement behaviour and economic well-being in old age (Ebbinghaus 2006; Fasang 2012; Fasang, Aisenbrey & Schömann 2013; Hofäcker 2010; Schrenker 2011). Most studies point to differential effects of various pension policies by older workers’ gender, education, occupation and family status. However, our understanding of how the most recent profound shifts in pension policies are shaping retirement of the large baby boom cohorts and how societal subgroups have responded to policy change remains grossly incomplete. The same applies to family behaviour. There are some studies on the effect of public policies on birth rates and family behaviour (e.g. Wrohlich, Geyer & Haan 2015; Zagel et al. 2013). Other studies have examined how fertility and family behaviour varies by societal subgroups (Andersson, Kreyenfeld & Mika 2014; Jalovaara & Fasang 2015). However, we still lack a comprehensive investigation of how family policy reforms influenced birth and family dynamics and how the effect differs by gender, education, country of origin and migration background. In the realm of migration research, the interaction between different policy domains and the specific migration regimes is still under scrutiny (Sainsbury 2012). Here, we will place less emphasis on the impact of immigration policies on migratory movements, but rather focus on the impact of welfare institutions on immigrants’ economic well-being, social inclusion and behaviour. In particular the heterogeneity of immigrant populations is a perpetual challenge in assessing how they respond to policies. It might be the case that some immigrant groups, defined by country of origin, gender or educational level among others, respond strongly to a specific policy measure, while there are very different effects or no effects at all for other subgroups. In such scenarios, sizable effect heterogeneity for different subgroups might cancel each other out on average and falsely appear as null effects in policy evaluations. For instance, a large body of literature has amassed that examined the family and labour behaviour of migrants (Boyle et al. 2001; Kalter & Kogan 2014; Kulu & González-Ferrer 2013). However, we still lack an understanding of how welfare state regulations – broadly understood – shape the family and employment behaviour of recent migrants. Given that migration flows have become more heterogeneous in terms of country of origin, legal grounds of migration and skill composition, the patterns that may emerge for recent migration cohorts may be very different from the old ones. Questions to be addressed in this pillar are, for example: How did family policies, such as the expansion of public day care, affect maternal and paternal labour market, family and parenting behaviour? How do patterns vary for lower and higher educated men and women? How quickly do migrant women enter the labour market after immigration and what role do migration and labour market policies play? Is the welfare generosity related to employment patterns of migrants and does that nexus vary between different groups? Finally with regard to policies addressing population aging we are interested in questions such as what is the effect of recent pension reforms on retirement behaviour? In particular, how do changes in the mandatory retirement age and the retrenchment of pension benefits influence the decision of men and women to exit the labour market and associated social inequalities in old age? Which societal groups have been more likely to postpone retirement? Which effects do these decisions have on economic well-being, health, elderly care and family life? How do patterns compare across countries?

Second, scholars who examined particular policies mostly adopted a rather narrow understanding of public policies. Often policy reforms were analysed in isolation without paying sufficient attention to the larger welfare state context. Some policies may simply “not work” because of the many layers that exist in modern welfare states that determine a successful implementation of a policy. Furthermore, single policy initiatives may not yield the expected outcome because they are in conflict with other more established policies (Gauthier 2016; Neyer & Andersson 2008; Korpi, Ferrarini & Englund 2013). A prominent example in this context are the initiatives of national governments to increase public day care. Depending on the national welfare state context, the predominant attitudes and the economic conditions, these policies may operate very differently. Furthermore, single policy initiatives could result in an incongruent incentive structure where policies “push and pull in all directions” (Brennan 2007). Scholars have argued in this context for the need to design life course sensitive social policies that for instance harmonize family and employment policies earlier in life with pension policies that are in effect later in life for specific birth cohorts (Leisering 2003; Madero-Cabib & Fasang 2016). Demographers will benefit from exchanges with scholars of democratic processes and public policy by systematically taking into account the interconnectedness between different policy areas and democratic processes accounting for these differences. For example, how do family and pension policies relate to each other? Did reconciliation policies increase female employment? How did this increase impact women’s engagement in elderly care? Which role do policy reforms, such as the parental leave benefit reform in Germany, have on birth rates? Did other policies, such as the tax system, mitigate the effect of the reform?


Thus, PhD projects in this research pillar will address the impact of public policies on three key aspects of demographic development in comparative perspective across time and regions:


  1. How do public policies impact parental employment and family behaviour?
  2. How do public policies impact retirement behaviour, old age poverty and the provision of old age care?
  3. How do public policies impact the family and labour market behaviour of migrants?


Potential Dissertation Advisors