A Marriage-Cohort Analysis of Legal Separations in Italy

Article excerpt

In Italy, marital dissolution was made legal in 1970 and entails two stages: a period of legal separation followed by divorce. Both legal separation and divorce become effective after a court verdict. The Divorce Act (1970) stipulated the minimum interval between legal separation and divorce to be five years, but in 1987 this was reduced to three years. Although only about 50% of legal separations are actually followed through to a final divorce (Table 1), with total dissolution of marital status, only a negligible proportion of legal separations lead to a reconciliation between spouses (Barbagli, 1990).

Given this context, an analysis of the continuous increase in legal marital dissolution in Italy is best carried out by focusing on legal separations. Data on each separation verdict are collected by the Italian National Institute of Statistics (Istituto nazionale di statistica, ISTAT). In this paper, we use these data from 1970; before 1970, legal separations were permitted, but they were very uncommon.

The aims of this short paper are first, to illustrate the trends in legal separation in Italy by year of marriage and duration and second, to forecast possible tendencies in the near future. In order to elaborate on our second point (i) we project the probabilities of legal separation by duration; (ii) we carry out a territorial analysis of the 20 Italian regions, offering several possible explanations for observed territorial differences; (iii) we compare Italy with Spain (where divorce became legal in 1981) and with other western countries where marital dissolutions are more common and became widespread earlier (United States, United Kingdom and France). Our intention is not to provide a complete overview of differences in marriage dissolution among western countries. Considering Spain and forerunner countries, our aim is to catch a glimpse of the future of legal marital dissolution in Italy.

We adopt a cohort approach, constructing legal separation life tables by year of marriage. This technique is commonly used by demographers, but has seldom been employed in analyses of marriage dissolution. The most recent and quoted comparative article on this topic (Andersson and Dimiter, 2001) uses a period approach, which is of little use in explaining a rapidly changing pattern of marital dissolution such as that in Italy over the last few decades. We therefore provide a detailed explanation of the methodology employed (section 1) in the construction of the separation life tables, and address the problem of interaction with mortality. In order to illustrate the relevance of the cohort approach, the period life tables are constructed and results are compared.

The legal separation life tables by year of marriage provide answers to a number of important questions. Is separation increasing in intensity? Are there any "period-shocks" (i.e. period changes of probabilities of separation affecting each cohort of marriage, apart from the duration of marriage)? Has the timing of separation changed by marriage cohort? Is the increase in the number of separations equally distributed by duration of marriage, or is it concentrated in the earlier or later years of marriage?

1. Method

1.1. The construction of marriage-cohort legal separation life tables

ISTAT has published national data on legal separations by year of marriage since 1969. Consequently, our analysis deals with those marriages celebrated from 1969-2003. In this section we describe the method of building the marriage-cohort separation life tables. The results are reported and discussed in section 2.

The first step in constructing a marriage-cohort separation life table is to calculate the probability of separation by duration of marriage. Data on legal separation for the years 1969 through 2003 were collected and organized as shown for the most recent marriage cohorts in Table 2. The first column shows marriages ,M celebrated during the year t. …