Choosing between Marriage and Cohabitation: Women's First Union Patterns in Hungary

Article excerpt


The political changes in Eastern Europe during the 1990s drew a lot of attention both from the media and academia. However, the demographic transformations of the region-less obvious, but equally important phenomena-rarefy came into the focus, although they tend to have tremendous long term consequences (Bradatan & Firebaugh, 2007). Two decades after the fall of state socialism, the demographic picture of Eastern Europe is remarkably changed: an accelerated decline of fertility, relatively high mortality and, in some cases, a high rate of out migration, made several of these countries to record a population decline.

It is nowadays the norm for young Eastern Europeans to delay marriage, postpone having children, have high rates of divorce and, as a result, have an increasing percentage of the children born (or spending a significant part of their life) outside of a two-parent family. Declining fertility, one of the most often cited demographic features of East European countries, is, among other factors, a result of postponement of marriage and childbearing (Billari & Kohler, 2004). The changing patterns of union formation (high number of divorces and cohabitations, delay of marriage) and the corresponding decline in fertility suggest that the Eastern European countries entered into the second demographic transition phase. Moreover, the Eastern European societies are more heterogeneous from a demographic point of view as various groups (characterized either by ethnicity, education, type of employment, level of income) tend to get a distinct demographic profile and have different trajectories than others (Kantorova, 2004; Koycheva, 2006). This increasing diversity of family related behaviors can be seen as the result of different level of access to social and economic resources (Mitchell, 2006) as inequality accompanies economic growth in this part of the world.

Although the demographic changes described above are well documented at the macro level (Kohler & Philipov, 2001; Monnier & Rychtarchikova, 1992) the lack of longitudinal data makes difficult or almost impossible to model and explain these changes at the individual level.

In this paper we focus on Hungary and analyze data from the Gender and Generations Survey. We are interested in the main factors affecting the first union formation patterns (cohabitation versus marriage) for women and we investigate how these patterns vary across different cohorts. We put all these information into a detailed, dynamic picture, using event history methods employed into three different models.

Apart from trying to understand which groups are more willing to enter into cohabitation and to reject marriage, we also describe the relationship between cohabitation and marriage. We look to this relationship from three different points of view. If cohabitation is a replacement for marriage, those who cohabit will be similar to those who marry. Then, the increase in the number of out of wedlock births and the decrease in the marriage rate is simply a statistical question (as cohabitations are not recorded in the official statistics). If cohabitation is a step toward marriage, then those who enter cohabitation will also tend to enter marriage sooner or later, so the decrease in the marriage rate would be the result of postponing of rather than refraining from marriage. If cohabitation is a form of being single, then few cohabiters have children and cohabitations would rarely end up with a marriage.

The new home economics theory (Becker, 1981) advocates the idea that women tend to postpone or avoid marriage and to reduce their number of children because of the changing role of the marriage in a woman's life. Historically, marriage was the only a source of a steady income for women, but nowadays a woman can have her own job and enjoy financial security that comes with it. Entering cohabitation instead of marriage is seen, from this perspective, as a result of women's empowerment: more educated women would then prefer to keep their freedom and would enter cohabitation or stay single rather than marry, since income can be secured by other means. …


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