Partner relationships at the dawn of the 21st century: the case of the Netherlands

Jan Latten, University of Amsterdam
Clara H. Mulder, University of Groningen

As in many western countries, partnership formation has changed profoundly and rapidly in The Netherlands. In the past few decades marriage has lost its role as a sine qua non not only for partnership formation but also for parenthood. Divorce has become widespread and has been supplemented by the break-up of unmarried unions. Unmarried cohabitation has developed from a rare phenomenon into the almost general way of entering a co-residential partnership, and has become a long-term living arrangement for many. Registered partnerships and gay marriage have been introduced. Childbirth among unmarried couples is no longer rare but quite common and two-mother families are now part of the spectrum. Some women choose to have children without having a partner and adoption by singles has been legislated. Societal discussion has shifted to such themes as the financial risks of unmarried people breaking up their relationships. In this paper, we describe and interpret the main trends in the formation and dissolution of partnerships in The Netherlands until 2010. Furthermore, we address the question what future trends can be foreseen, and to what extent changes in the Netherlands could indicate parallel changes in other countries. We argue the socio-demographic changes can be seen as part of a broader process of socio-economic and cultural transformation that incorporates many aspects of daily life and of which the informalization of partnerships and families forms an important characteristic. We conclude that, in the Netherlands and probably also in other countries, the Second Demographic Transition has by no means reached its end but continues in new, unprecedented ways.

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Presented in Session 105: Changing unions and childbearing