The contexts of partnership and childbearing as determinants of union stability: a quantitative analysis on western and eastern German partnerships with data from the German Family Panel

Schnor, C.
296 pages. Rostock, Universität Rostock (2014)


This dissertation focuses on the individual and regional contexts of partnership and childbearing as determinants of union stability. Despite the increasing prevalence of non-marital living arrangements, research on non-marital partnership forms is still limited: few studies have focused on LAT partnerships, and not much is currently known about the quantitative importance of LAT partnerships among couples with children. Scholars have largely concentrated on marriage as the point of reference, and have limited their attention to comparisons between the stability of marital and non-marital unions. However, the topic of non-marital living arrangements merits more focused scholarly attention. Most studies have started from the point of view of the household, focusing on residential couples who become parents. As a consequence, non-residential partnership episodes in which children may be also conceived and born tend to be overlooked. Some studies have addressed the union stability of cohabiting parents in a comparative perspective. The broader context in which the non-marital partnership is embedded, including partnership stability, has received relatively little attention. Based on the concept of the Second Demographic Transition, some scholars have suggested that the level of secularisation is related to the proportion of non-marital living arrangements and the rates of union dissolution. However, empirical research on this relationship is still rare. The first aim of this thesis is to describe partnership arrangements in two different contexts: namely, eastern and western Germany. The second aim is to analyse which individual and contextual factors determine the union stability of couples with children. These objectives are approached from a life course perspective. The choice of a trajectory in terms of a certain partnership arrangement, and the sequencing of the partnership events—namely, partnership, household, marriage, and family formation—are assumed to have consequences for the success of the future partnership. In sum, the empirical results revealed that among eastern and western German mothers, a non-marital partnership was most common at the beginning of a woman’s reproductive career; that is, at the time she conceived her first child. The majority of the mothers lived outside of marriage at that point in time. Eastern German mothers were twice as likely as western German mothers to be living in a cohabiting union. Although cohabitation is commonly assumed to be much less stable than marriage, eastern and western German first-time parents did not differ in terms of overall union stability. In addition, the higher level of secularisation in eastern Germany does not appear to have contributed to a lower level of stability among eastern German partnerships. This is because the religious background of the mother and her partnership context at first childbirth had different effects on union stability among eastern Germans than among western Germans. Church membership significantly reduced the risk of separation among eastern German unions with children, but not among their western German counterparts. Moreover, cohabitation represented a more stable living arrangement in eastern than in western Germany. I found that eastern German cohabiting unions were less negatively selected than those of western German cohabiting women: the former had on average a longer partnership duration prior to the first childbirth. The time spent together before family formation may indicate the level of positive selectivity of the couple, like the time spent together before household formation. My empirical findings showed that the shorter these periods were, the more likely it was that the partnership would be dissolved. The amount of time the couple spent together before their first child was born was the most important factor that influenced their choice of partnership context at childbirth and their separation risk: a short partnership duration made non-marital parenthood more likely, and increased the risk of partnership disruption after childbirth. However, in sum, the differences in the selection of eastern and western German women into non-marital motherhood could not completely explain their stability differences.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.