Intergenerational transmission of age at first union and the effect of parental divorce

Carel Harmsen, Statistics Netherlands
Elma Wobma, Statistics Netherlands

Important life course transitions often have an intergenerational connection: e.g. young first-time mothers are likely to have young parents and people who grew up in disrupted families run a higher risk of divorce. This connection is related to the intergenerational transmission of attitudes, preferences and socio-economic resources. Because the intergenerational transmission of attitudes regarding marriage timing, the age at union formation as well as the age at first child has been shown, we expected the actual timing of the first union to be transmitted from parents to children as well. Using a register data set (N=1.3 million, birth cohorts 1976-1980), we studied the relationship between a woman’s age at first union and her mother’s age at first marriage, and likewise for men and fathers. This way, the direct transmission of union formation timing was studied. The indirect transmission was measured by incorporating socio-economic variables in the dataset. Additionally, relevant demographic data like sex, migrant background, birth cohort and experience of parental divorce were included. We used datasets specifically designed by Statistics Netherlands for relationship histories, optimal links between children and parents, and household composition and change, enriched with socio-economic data from the Social Statistical Database. First results confirm the intergenerational transmission of age at first union: there is a positive correlation between a person’s and parent’s age at first union, which is strongest for the younger age groups. We also found that men and women who had experienced parental divorce entered into their first union at significantly lower ages, but were less likely to get married. The effect of parental divorce on age at first union was very strong and remained so after controlling for age at leaving the parental home. Lower educated women started cohabiting earlier in life, but for men the effect of education was not very clear-cut.

Presented in Session 73: Intergenerational transmissions