The Nonmarital Childbearing Network

The Intersection Between Childbearing and Union Status

Motivation


Diffusion over time
Figure 1: Percent of all births born in cohabitation, by country, 1970-latest date available

Source: For Romania, Russia, West Germany, Hungary, Norway, Austria, France and Italy data comes from the GGS. Dutch data is from the 2003 FFS, Austrian data from GGS and 1995-96 FFS, and British data comes from the British Household Panel Survey 1991-2004.

Variation across countries
Figure 2: Percent of all births in cohabitation, early 2000s


Source: For Romania, Russia, West Germany, Hungary, Norway, Austria, France and Italy data comes from the GGS. Dutch data is from the 2003 FFS, Austrian data from GGS and 1995-96 FFS, and British data comes from the British Household Panel Survey 1991-2004.

Investigating the problem
Over the past several decades, childbearing within cohabitation has increased throughout the industrialized world. Yet little is known about whether the pattern or underlying reasons for this increase are similar across contexts. To better understand this problem, we study the diffusion of nonmarital childbearing from a number of analytic levels and methodological perspectives. Our team of researchers, called the Nonmarital Childbearing Network, focuses on countries: Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Great Britain, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Our first goal is to describe changes over time in union status throughout the childbearing process. Using harmonized union and reproductive histories from Generation and Gender Surveys or similar surveys, we classify countries according to the prevalence of cohabitation throughout the lifecourse: before conception, conception, birth, and one year after birth. Contrary to claims that marriage is disappearing in Europe, we find that marriage is not irrelevant to childbearing and early childrearing in any country.
Second, we focus on the trends and correlates of childbearing within cohabitation. We conduct analyses of the gap between first and higher parity births within cohabitation, the age pattern of childbearing by union status, and the impact of declining marital fertility rates on the share of births within cohabitation. These analyses shed light on how similar cohabitation is to marriage and to what extent cohabitation is displacing marriage as a setting for childbearing and childrearing.
Third, we examine the educational gradient of nonmarital childbearing and how it changes over time. We find that in all countries studied, childbearing within cohabitation has a negative educational gradient, with the exception of Italy, which has only recently experienced increases in nonmarital childbearing. These findings challenge the Second Demographic Transition, which posits that new family behaviors are due to increases in self-actualization and individualism, generally practiced by those with higher education. We propose an alternative explanation called the "Pattern of Disadvantage." This theory argues that the social and feminist movements of the 1960s-70s, coupled with the globalization and rising economic uncertainty of the 1980s-90s have led to an increasing divergence in family behaviors.
Although we aim to analyze general trends across countries, we are aware that the development of the trends is country-specific. Therefore, the project aims to supplement quantitative analyses with substantive explanations. For example, we explore the social policies that could impact or be impacted by childbearing within cohabitation, such as the legalization of cohabitation, parental rights, tax transfers, and single-mother benefits.
Ultimately, the project aims to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding family change. Taken as a whole, we anticipate that the study will provide evidence of multiple pathways to family change, but that in general, nonmarital childbearing will be indicative of a divergence in family formation strategies between higher and lesser educated sections of the population. These results may indicate that family behaviors are reproducing inequalities, thus leading to an overall increase in inequality.