MPIDR Working Paper

The educational gradient of nonmarital childbearing in Europe: emergence of a pattern of disadvantage?

Perelli-Harris, B., Sigle-Rushton, W., Kreyenfeld, M. R., Lappegård, T., Berghammer, C., Keizer, R.
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2010-004, 43 pages.
Rostock, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (January 2010)
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Open Access


Nearly every European country has experienced some increase in nonmarital childbearing, largely due to increasing births within cohabitation. Relatively few studies in Europe, however, investigate the educational gradient of childbearing within cohabitation or how it changed over time. Using retrospective union and fertility histories, we employ competing risk hazard models to examine the educational gradient of childbearing in cohabitation in 8 countries across Europe. In all countries studied, birth risks within cohabitation demonstrated a negative educational gradient. When directly comparing cohabiting fertility with marital fertility, the negative educational gradient persists in all countries except Italy, although differences were not significant in Austria, France, and Germany. These findings suggest that childbearing within cohabitation largely follows a Pattern of Disadvantage. We argue that the Pattern of Disadvantage developed due to: 1) feminist and social movements that liberalized attitudes towards nonmarital childbearing, and 2) globalization and economic uncertainty that led to job insecurity and relationship instability. This explanation provides an alternative to the Second Demographic Transition theory, for which we find little evidence.
Keywords: Europe, childbearing, cohabitation, family formation, fertility, UN, unmarried mothers
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.