Using data from the German Socio-Economic Panel, we investigated the role of childbearing history in later life health and mortality, paying particular attention to possible differences by sex and region. Higher parity is associated with better self-rated health in Western German mothers and fathers aged 50+, but its relationship with Eastern German women’s physical health and survival is negative. Early motherhood is paralleled by poorer physical health in West Germany, whereas late motherhood is associated with lower psychological well-being in East Germany. Moreover, among Western German women, having had a non-marital first birth is weakly correlated with lower physical health. Our findings support the notion of biosocial pathways playing an important role in shaping the fertility-health-nexus. Specifically, the Western German ‘male breadwinner’ model of specialisation appears to have buffered the stresses associated with childrearing, whereas fertility off the ‘normative’ life course track supposedly had adverse effects on women’s health in West Germany.
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