Union dissolution in the Second Demographic Transition? A longitudinal analysis of educational differentials in France, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium

Inge Pasteels, University of Antwerp
Karel Neels, University of Antwerp

Postwar demographic trends in Europe are frequently referred to in terms of a second demographic transition. The period under consideration is characterized by rising ages at marriage, a fall in proportions marrying, increasing cohabitation, increasing divorce, postponement of fertility, the emergence of subreplacement fertility and increasing non-marital childbearing. Lesthaeghe and Van De Kaa link changing demographic behaviour with changes in the societal background such as the emergence of higher-order needs, secularization, rising symmetry in gender roles and flexible life course organization. Although the time paths of these aggregate demographic trends largely coincide, reconstruction of the trends based on Belgian census data indicates that the hallmarks of the second demographic transition do not make up coherent behavioural patterns at the individual level. In Belgium, the regional pattern of unmarried cohabitation, non-marital fertility and divorce is closely associated with regional leads and lags in terms of secularisation and these precarious living arrangements are also more frequent among lower socio-economic groups. Fertility postponement, however, is clearly associated with educational attainment. The profile of higher educated women is further characterised by stable labour market positions, a preference for stable living arrangements, increasing transitions into parenthood due to policies of de-familialization initiated in the early 1970s and frequent progressions to second and third births. The narrative of the second demographic transition thus seems to conceal considerable differentials by socio-economic position. Cohabitation may also be a rational choice in the face of uncertainty, insecurity, unemployment and socio-economic disadvantage. British and Swedish research provides clues that unmarried parenthood may be more closely associated with impoverishment than empowerment. Focusing on union dissolution this paper turns to the reconstruction of trends by level of education in France, Germany the Netherlands and Belgium over the last decades.

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Presented in Session 97: Impact of educational changes on family dynamics