Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Link between Parenthood and Partnership in Contemporary Norway - Findings from Focus Group Research

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Link between Parenthood and Partnership in Contemporary Norway - Findings from Focus Group Research

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Children born throughout Europe and in other industrialized countries are increasingly likely to have parents who are cohabiting without being married (Perelli-Harris et al. 2012). The Nordic countries were the forerunners of this trend, and they have the highest proportion of children born within cohabitation. Nowadays, a substantial proportion of all children in these countries are born within cohabitation, although most parents seem to marry sooner or later. In Norway these behavioral changes have been thoroughly described and analyzed (Noack 2010; Statistics Norway 2014).

The increase in childbearing within cohabitation raises a question about the link between parenthood and partnership. A common view seems to be that having children may have another and more committed meaning for family formation than when marriage was the conventional family form for entering parenthood (Kiernan 2004). Although having a child together is obviously a lifelong commitment, our knowledge about how people perceive and think about children and partnership may need to be enlarged.

Despite a strong decline in Norwegian marriage rates, as across Europe, even in Norway marriage still seems to be a desirable living arrangement. Most children born into a union will have parents who are married or will marry later. Thus marriage and childbearing are still interrelated, although in a different manner than previously. When there is no specific reason to get married, this raises questions about the meaning of marriage in terms of when and why to marry. Are the shifting sequences of timing childbearing and the type of union accidental, or rather the result of conscious choices embedded in a shift in values and norms? Or are they maybe simply perceived to be less important and, in the end, irrelevant?

In Norway we know that most marriages occur after having the first child, but what are the reasons for marrying in a context where having a child in cohabitation is obviously totally acceptable? Traditionally, marriage has been the safest form of partnership when it comes to economic and social benefits and rights, and more so for children and women. Changing rules and regulations have, however, gradually reduced the differences between marriage and cohabitation. In Norway, parental responsibilities, taxes, national insurance, and other social benefits are largely the same for cohabiting and married couples with children. Despite the legal equal treatment, we lack information on what people in general know about the changing rules. It could be that marriage is preferred because it is assumed that there are more advantages to marrying than to living in cohabitation than really is the case. And even if marriage is outdated as a first partnership and sometimes may seem to be a superfluous institution, many may still consider it as a desirable and 'natural' step in family-building. Or they may consider marriage to be a more committed type of union than cohabitation, or appreciate the symbolic meaning of a wedding as a public commitment in front of family and friends and society in more general.

In this study we use focus group research to examine the meaning of partnership for childbearing in a setting where the proportion of births within cohabitation is high. In a qualitative study, Syltevik (2010) concluded that premarital cohabitation has gradually become normative and even the proper thing to do in Norway. Using focus groups, we move a step further and investigate the link between parenthood and partnership in contemporary Norway. Thus, we are able to supplement our knowledge about the behavioral changes with more insights into how young Norwegian men and women perceive and think about the link between parenthood and partnership. We focus on three aspects of family formation. Firstly, we ask what children mean to partnerships. How does having children define family formation compared to the type of union? Secondly, we ask what the meaning of marriage is for childbearing. …

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