The transition to first union in western Germany and France

Katja Köppen, University of Rostock

The following work is a study of the transition to first union in France and western Germany - either as non-marital cohabitation or direct marriage - using two national surveys that deal with union and family formation. While cohabitation in western Germany has become a socially accepted, but only short-term prelude to marriage and is often transformed into marriage when couples have a child, in France cohabitation has become an accepted alternative to marriage connected with a high rate of non-marital births. The differences in demographic behavior and the apparent contrast to German family policy provides a strong incentive to study France and western Germany in a comparative perspective. The major objective of this work is to analyze the two most discussed factors that are regarded as responsible for changes in union formation behavior: the impact of woman's educational attainment as a predictor for female economic independence and the impact of childbearing on union formation behavior. Two retrospective surveys are analyzed: the German Familiensurvey conducted in the year 2000 and the French Study of Family History from 1999. Since there are two possible destinations, namely entering direct marriage versus a non-marital cohabitation, a competing risk framework is used. First results indicate that despite the strong increase in cohabiting unions in western Germany, cohabitation cannot compensate for the steep decrease in marriage rates. In France, the increase in cohabitation intensities fully compensates for decreasing marriage rates; it even led to higher partnership rates in principle. Regarding education, we discovered that highly educated French women have a significantly higher risk of starting their first union as non-marital cohabitation compared to direct marriage than all other educational groups. In western Germany, we do not find such a clear effect of education. There, educational enrollment seems to matter more than attainment.

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Presented in Session 76: Transitions in the family formation process