The effect of union status at first childbirth on union stability: evidence from Eastern and Western Germany
European Journal of Population, 30:2, 129–160 (2014)
It is often assumed that cohabitation is much less stable than marriage. If cohabitation becomes more common among parents, children may be increasingly exposed to separation. However, little is known about how the proportion of cohabiting parents relates to their separation behavior. Higher shares of childbearing within cohabitation might reduce the proportion of negatively selected couples among cohabiting parents, which could in turn improve their union stability. This study focuses on parents who were cohabiting when they had their first child. It compares their union stability within a context in which they represent the majority or the minority. The German case is well-suited to this research goal because non-marital childbearing is common in eastern Germany (60 %) but not in western Germany (27 %). The data came from the German Family Panel (pairfam), and include 1,844 married and cohabiting mothers born in 1971–1973 and 1981–1983. The empirical results suggest that the union stability of cohabiting mothers is positively related to their prevalence: survival curves showed that eastern German cohabiting mothers had a greater degree of union stability than their western German counterparts. This difference increased in the event-history model, which accounted for the particular composition of eastern German society, including the relatively low level of religious affiliation among the population. Controlling for unobserved heterogeneity did not change this result. In sum, these findings indicate that context plays an important role in the union stability of cohabiting parents.