On the stability of individualistic marriages

Nicole Hiekel, University of Cologne and Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)
Michael Wagner, University of Cologne

The rise in divorce rates that set on more than a hundred years ago cannot be explained by changes in the socio-structural composition of the married population (e.g. Wagner et al. 2015). It has been suggested that individualization processes at the societal level may have also changed the meaning of marriage and increased the instability of married unions. In individualistic marriages, spouses 1) attach great importance to the emotional bond between them, 2) avoid specialization and pursue a gender equal division of labor and family work, 3) negotiate their social roles in a democratic process and 4) maintain individual autonomy within their relationship. In this paper, we examine whether these four dimensions of individualistic marriages are associated with an increased likelihood to divorce. We answer this research question using longitudinal data from the German Family Panel (Pairfam) that comprises marriages of the birth cohorts 1971-73 and 1981-83. We follow 3,278 individuals, married at the time of first interview, for up to six subsequent years of their marriage. Pairfam includes rich data on spouses’ expectations towards a relationship, the extent to which they are satisfied in their relationship and the way they organize their marriage in terms of specialization, role negotiation and autonomy. The data also comprise the incidence of marital dissolution. This research contributes to the literature that aims at identifying cultural factors that explain the rising divorce trends in many western societies as a consequence of individualization processes. Our first results show that many marriages in our sample contain characteristic features of individualistic marriages. In turn, individualistic marriages are indeed associated with higher odds of perceived marital instability (as a preliminary proxy measure for actual divorce).

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Presented in Poster Session 1