Assessing the contribution of living arrangements to aggregate trends in entry into parenthood for three European countries between the 1970s and 2000s

Jorik Vergauwen, Universiteit Antwerpen
Karel Neels, Universiteit Antwerpen
David De Wachter, Universiteit Antwerpen

The Second Demographic Transition theory predicted that from the 1970s onwards, changes in western European nuptiality and fertility patterns are associated with cultural shifts. The empirical support for cultural explanations of fertility is, however, limited and childbearing decisions are increasingly related to structural factors such as educational expansion and economic conditions. Nevertheless, authors have suggested that value orientations, i.e. post-materialism, indirectly affect fertility timing since less family-oriented women may reject traditional family building institutions such as marriage. These women, showing (at least temporary) lower fertility intentions, may opt more frequently for flexible and non-marital living arrangements. This study therefore examines whether cultural changes affect the transition to parenthood via changing living arrangements. Using data from the Harmonized Histories, we assess to what extent partnership behaviour – e.g. postponed union formation, increasing unmarried cohabitation and separation – can explain trends in synthetic parity progression ratios for first births in three European countries between the 1970s and 2000s. The analysis first takes information on education (i.e. enrolment and attainment) and economic context (i.e. macro-level indicators of economic cycles) into account to control for structural determinants of first birth trends. The results show that changes in living arrangements are not instrumental in explaining aggregate trends in entry into parenthood for all countries. Predominantly for Norway empirical evidence is found for the contribution of living arrangements to SPPR1 time-series. Indicators of economic context, however, account more substantially for changing first birth trends in Hungary.

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 Presented in Session 64. Attitudes, culture, religion