Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Fertility and Union Stability Interact in Shaping New Family Patterns in Italy and Spain

Academic journal article Demographic Research

How Fertility and Union Stability Interact in Shaping New Family Patterns in Italy and Spain

Article excerpt


In this paper we investigate the relationship between fertility decisions and union dissolution in Italy and Spain. We ask whether these processes affect each other directly and whether they are simultaneously influenced by the same unobserved characteristics. The analysis is based on the 1996 Fertility and Family Survey for Italy and Spain. Results show that the direct effect between processes is significant in both countries: as expected, childbearing decreases the risk of union dissolution, and union dissolution decreases the risk of further childbearing. Individual unobserved characteristics simultaneously shape both processes in Italy, where individuals who have a higher risk of having children also have a lower risk of dissolving their union (and vice versa). In contrast, this result does not hold in Spain.

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1. Introduction

In the framework of the Second Demographic Transition, Italy and Spain represent the so called "Mediterranean Model". These two countries show peculiar demographic trends (Van de Kaa 1987) that differentiate them from their counterparts in Central and Northern Europe. In the Southern European countries, timing to first union formation and parenthood has dramatically increased, while marriage and fertility rates have decreased, at even lower levels than in other countries. In many Western countries cohabitation compensates the decline of marriages, and non-marital fertility and late age childbearing partly balance the decline in fertility. Yet, this is not the case in Italy and Spain (Lesthaeghe and Moors 2000). On the one hand, these two countries are well-known in Europe as champions for having achieved the "lowest-low" levels of fertility (Kohler, Billari and Ortega 2002). On the other hand, union instability although increasing, is still at very low levels if compared with other European countries (De Rose and Di Cesare 2003; Solsona, Houle and Simo 1999). Italy and Spain are also similar in being characterized by very strong family ties, which often provide individuals with the social support not guaranteed by their weakened welfare states (Reher 1998).

In this paper we focus on fertility decision and union instability. We argue that investigating these life trajectories together is worthwhile, because we expect that decisions about fertility and union instability are made according to same individual characteristics, possibly unobserved, belonging to one's beliefs and values (Thornton 1977; Lillard and Waite 1993). For instance, individuals who are more likely to have children may also be less likely to experience union dissolution, because they may be particularly willing to invest resources in the family (Jansen and Kalmijn 2002).

Futhermore, fertility and union stability shape one's family life-course through affecting each other directly. Childbearing may induce a lower risk of union dissolution (Willcox 1891; White 1990) by providing the couple with shared goals and interest (Thornton 1977), and by increasing the costs associated with an eventual union dissolution (Burges and Wallin 1953; Becker 1991). Similarly, union dissolution may decrease the chance of further childbearing, not only because non-marital fertility is very low (particularly in the case of Italy and Spain) (Council of Europe 2003; 2004), but also by reducing the confidence in the chances of future unions to last (Lillard and Waite 1993).

To study union dissolution and fertility decision as interrelated processes, distinguishing between direct reciprocal effects and common determinants, we apply simultaneous hazard models (Lillard and Waite 1993). We compare two sets of models: one type considers the potential effect of unobserved common determinants and the other one disregards their effect. This strategy allows us to assess to what extent a simultaneous modeling improves the comprehension of union dissolution and fertility decisions. …

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