East Meets West
In a previous whitepaper, we described research that shows TV negatively affects family formation and family intactness. Here we want to report on a new, similar study that shows Western television contributes to declining fertility rates.
In “Television Role Models and Fertility—Evidence from a Natural Experiment” two German econometricians looked at the effect of Western German programming on East German family formation over the Cold War.
During the first years of the Cold War, East Germany (GDR) was rather insular. For the purpose of the study it isn’t important if the GDR was behind a physical wall; what matters is that Western TV reception was rigorously streng verboten (forbidden): There were campaigns to tear down West-facing antennae found on East German homes.
With the arrival of the Honecker government in 1971, things changed. Détente arrived. With it came Western TV showing East Germans the ‘Western family ideal’: no kids.
Well, not all of East Germany saw this change. Dresden was a black-out zone – not because Westerners didn’t want to reach it, but because of physics: The signal didn’t propagate all the way over there.
Throughout these changes, East German TV was comparatively pro-child. Though women were still expected to be part of the economic-industrial machine, family was portrayed in a deliberately positive light.