‘No, Thank You, Mr Stork!’: Voluntary Childlessness in Weimar and Contemporary Germany
Christina Benninghaus (MA University of Warwick, 1989, PhD European University Institute, Florence, 1993) is a Senior Fellow at the Gerda-Henkel-Foundation's M4Human programme. She is currently based at the Department of History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge, where she is working on a book entitled The Quest for a Child: Modern Infertility, 1880-1930. She is an expert on 19th and 20th century German history with a special interest in social, cultural and gender history. Her previous research on female youth and on social protest has resulted in several books.
Voluntary childlessness is often perceived as a contemporary phenomenon. This article traces its history by looking at demographic data and visual representations of childlessness from the 1920s and 1930s. At that time, childlessness was on the rise among Germany's young urban couples – a development that inspired concern and controversy. Caricatures, films, plays and other representations testify to the growing fascination with childlessness. Even images used in population propaganda appear as strangely ambivalent. While they were intended to criticise childlessness, they also insinuate the pleasures of a child-free existence. These, however, were time-specific. As comparisons with more recent images show that the "value of childlessness" as invoked by visual representations has shifted significantly.