The influence of divorce on the cumulated fertility of men and women across Europe

Mieke Jansen, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Belinda Wijckmans, Interface Demography, Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Jan Van Bavel, Vrije Universiteit Brussel

While marriage and childbearing have often been linked, less attention has been directed towards the influence of partnership dissolution on fertility. Several arguments have however been advanced to explain the observed correlation between divorce and fertility on the aggregate level. Second Demographic Transition theory suggests an indirect connection between the declining fertility and the rising divorce figures, ascribing both to an ideational shift away from normative guidelines towards increased individualization. Assuming a negative causal relationship, scholars have also argued that increased partnership instability and the resulting rise in the time spent outside partnership result in a smaller number of children at the end of the fertility career. A positive relationship has been suggested, arguing that divorcees show a higher propensity to have another child when entering into a second union, signalling their commitment to the new relationship. Explanations like these have hardly been adequately tested on the individual level. Using comparative cross-national data from the European Social Survey (round 3), we address the following questions: is there a positive or a negative relationship, if any, between the experience of divorce and the number of children an individual bears? Does the influence of divorce on fertility differ for men compared to women? Applying multilevel Poisson regression models, we also investigate whether the supposed ‘divorce-effect’ on fertility behaviour varies cross-nationally. Preliminary results indicate that individuals with a divorce-history indeed differ from never-divorced individuals with respect to their number of children. Though divorcees overall seem to have more children than their never-divorced counterparts, this is more so for divorced men than for women. The positive divorce-effect also seems to be more pronounced in some countries compared to others, suggesting that the increasing relationship instability in Europe has so far been an understudied factor in explaining the cross-country variability in fertility levels we observe today.

  See paper

Presented in Session 41: Union Instability, Non-Marital Births and Fertility