The prevalence of cohabiting unions with children and its influence on union stability: the German case

Christine Schnor, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research

This paper studies the determinant influence of union status on union stability among couples with children. Commonly it is assumed that marital unions are more stable than cohabiting unions because the latter are less consolidated and do not operate as a long-term commitment. However, cohabiting unions might become more stable the more widespread they become. We test this hypothesis using data from the German panel study pairfam and its supplement DemoDiff. Germany represents a special case because childbearing within cohabitation is much more common in eastern than in western Germany. The event-history approach is used to model the transition to separation after first childbirth. In addition, we test the influence of unobserved characteristics that influence the union context at childbirth and subsequent union stability by modeling the probability of cohabiting at first childbirth jointly with the separation risks after birth. The results show that the effect of union context on separation risks remains significant after controlling for individual and union characteristics. The interaction of union form and region point out that cohabiting at the time of first childbirth increases the risk of union dissolution only in western Germany, while the union context has no significant influence in eastern Germany. The comparison of the effect of marriage timing reveals that marriages starting during pregnancy are negatively associated with union stability in western Germany, but not in eastern Germany. Those remaining in cohabitation after childbirth have a higher risk of dissolution than marriages formed before conception in both countries, which support previous findings. The transition to separation is not found to be influenced by unmeasured selective characteristics of those cohabiting at the time of childbirth. We conclude that the regional prevalence of childbearing within cohabitation is a non-redundant factor in the analysis of union stability that should be considered in future studies.

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Presented in Session 63: Life course

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