Academic journal article Demographic Research

Levels of Recent Union Formation: Six European Countries Compared

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Levels of Recent Union Formation: Six European Countries Compared

Article excerpt


We offer a comparison between the age profiles of rates of formation of marital and non-marital unions among women in Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italy. We show that there is considerable variability across these populations in the levels and age patterns of union entry rates, ranging (i) from high and early rates in Russia to slow and late entries in Italy; and (ii) from the emphasis on marriage seen in Russia, Poland, Italy, and particularly Romania, to the dominant role of cohabitation reported for Bulgaria. Although this paper mainly discusses known features (like the patterns for Italy), these features are displayed with an unusual degree of clarity in the comparative framework, which also highlights unusual patterns, such as those seen in Bulgaria. We do not find much commonality in union-entry rates among ex-communist countries.

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1. Introduction

Event-history analysis has become the method of choice for the analysis of demographic behavior based on individual life-course histories. In its several variants, this method is geared to the study of the simultaneous effects of selected covariates on the rate of event occurrence for a single type of event, or for multiple events experienced by members of a single population. In the present paper, we extend this approach to the comparison of event occurrences across several populations. The extension is very simple, and consists of a comparison of curves of age-specific occurrence/exposure rates of marital and non-marital union formation for the populations in question. We apply this method in a comparison of the intensities of first union formation in six selected countries (Russia, Romania, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italy) in which we have a substantive interest, and for which we have data conveniently available. We find that first union formation is early and quick in Romania, in Bulgaria, and particularly in Russia (but that it operates at different intensities across these populations); slow and late in Italy; and somewhere in between in Poland and in Hungary. We have a particular interest in a comparison between Italy and Poland, as we expect to find a dominating influence of the Roman Catholic Church in these two countries that is missing in the other countries. The effect is clearest when we focus on entry into consensual unions, as rates of entry into these unions is considerably lower (though not negligible) in Italy and Poland than in the other four countries.

We also offer as a summary measure the probability that a respondent will have formed a union by age 35. Our analysis shows that, despite their tardy union transitions, some 80% of Italian women have formed a union by age 35. For the other countries, the percentages are roughly the same; though for Romania and Russia, the percentages are in the nineties.

2. Data and method

For a comparison across countries, it is important that the national data are reasonably comparable, particularly in terms of uniformity of principles of data collection. For our comparative study of recent entry into a first marital or non-marital union among women in European countries, the Gender and Generations Program appears to be a plausible source, and thus we have selected it for our analysis of trends in Russia, Romania, and Bulgaria. For Italy and Hungary, we have used very similar surveys conducted in the same period, while for Poland we have used data from that country's recent Employment, Family and Education Survey.6 In all of these data sets, events are dated to the accuracy of a calendar month.

Studies of the data from each individual country have been provided by Hoem et al. (2009a, 2009b), Matysiak (2009), and Gabrielli and Hoem (2009). Those authors furnish analyses of the patterns of union formation dynamics by educational attainment, by characteristics of the respondent's parental home, and by other issues specific to each of the various national data sets, as well as of their trends over time since about 1960. …

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