Medium educated as the driver of the rise in non-marital childbearing, 1970–2009

Christine Schnor, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
Marika Jalovaara, University of Turku

Among the most remarkable changes in family dynamics that have occurred during the past decades in most Western countries is the substantial increase in childbearing outside marriage and within cohabitation. Literature usually reports that low female education is linked to non-marital childbearing and stresses the disadvantaged life path that this association implies. Less is known about how the different educational groups have contributed to the overall increase that in many countries coincides with an educational expansion, and how the educational differentials developed during the increase. This study focuses on how the different educational groups have contributed to the increase in non-marital childbearing across Finnish childbearing cohorts 1970–2009. Using register data (11% population sample), we study the likelihoods of non-marital (vs. marital) childbearing by educational level among first-time mothers. Moreover, we estimate how the changing population composition of mothers in terms of education (i.e., educational expansion) affected the contribution of the different educational groups to the overall change. Preliminary results indicate that the educational gradient in non-marital childbearing was negative throughout the four decades. The educational differences in non-marital childbearing between lowest and medium educated women decreased, as the relative increase was stronger among the medium educated. Women with higher tertiary education had by far the lowest probability of non-marital birth and the gap to other groups grew. The overall increase in the percentage of non-marital first births was mostly driven by the growing group of medium educated women. Women with only basic education continued to have by far highest probabilities of having their first child outside marriage, but the contribution of this group to the overall increase was rather small due to its diminishing size. This suggests that the narrative of ‘diverging destinies’ has to be revised as it is applicable only to a small subgroup of women.

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Presented in Poster Session 1