World War II, Missing Men and Out of Wedlock Childbearing


  • Corresponding author: Michael Kvasnicka, RWI (Berlin Office), Hessische Str. 10, Berlin 10115, Germany. Email:

  • For helpful suggestions, we thank the editor Jörn-Steffen Pischke and two anonymous referees. The article has also benefited from useful comments by Silke Anger, Joshua Angrist, David Autor, Ronald Bachmann, Sebastian Braun, Michael C. Burda, Donald Cox, Paul Frijters, Jeanne Lafortune, Steve Machin, Andrew McClelland, Ju-Hyun Pyun, Albrecht Ritschl, Martin Spieß, Harald Uhlig, Axel Werwatz and participants of the 2009 Annual AEA Meeting in San Francisco, the 2007 Australasian Meeting of the Econometric Society, the 22nd Annual Congress of the European Economic Association, seminars of the Berlin Network of Labour Market Research (BeNA) and at the Queensland University of Technology and the 2007 annual conference of the Collaborative Research Center 649 on ‘Economic Risk’. Burcu Erdogan, Katja Hanewald and Arda Özcan have provided valuable research assistance. Financial support by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung, the Brain Korea 21 Program, and the Collaborative Research Center 649 is gratefully acknowledged. All remaining errors are our own.


Drawing upon county-level census data for the German state of Bavaria in 1939 and 1946, we use World War II (WWII) as a natural experiment to study the effects of changes in the adult sex ratio on out of wedlock fertility. Our findings show that war-induced shortfalls of men significantly increased the non-marital fertility ratio in the middle of the century. Furthermore, we find that the regional magnitude of this effect varies with the county-level share of prisoners of war (POWs) in an inverse manner. Unlike military casualties and soldiers missing in action, POWs had a sizeable positive probability of returning home from the war. It appears therefore that both current marriage market conditions and foreseeable improvements in the future marriage market prospects of women influenced fertility behaviour in the immediate aftermath of WWII.