Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Life Plans of Estonian Young Adults and Their Realization: The Impact of Parental Divorce in the Context of Late Socialism and the Post-Socialist Transition 1

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Life Plans of Estonian Young Adults and Their Realization: The Impact of Parental Divorce in the Context of Late Socialism and the Post-Socialist Transition 1

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

A number of studies, mostly in the United States, have shown that parental divorce has significant influence on young adults' life transitions and their timing (Aquilino, 1991; Bernhardt, Gähler, and Goldscheider, 2005; Goldscheider and Goldscheider, 1998; Kieman, 1992; Kiernan and Hobcraft, 1997; McLanahan and Sandefur, 1994; Mencarini, Meroni, and Pronzato, 2012; Sandefur, McLanahan, and Wojtkiewicz, 1992). Studies have also shown that the effect of parental divorce on children's values, wellbeing and family formation has changed in time (Amato, 2001; Bjamason and Arnarsson, 2011; Ely, Richards, Wadsworth and Elliot, 1999; Gähler, Hong, and Bernhardt, 2009). The weakening effect of parental divorce on children's lives is often explained by the increased incidence of divorce (Gähler et al., 2009). At the same time, we know little about the effect of parental divorce on the child's future family behavior in Eastern Europe, in the context of the late-socialist period and the societal transformation accompanied by high divorce rates. This article explores this effect using the example of Estonia. We use data from the longitudinal study Paths of a Generation, which follows the life course of a cohort of 1983 secondary school graduates. This generation grew up when the average age at marriage and childbirth was low, the fertility rate was increasing, and there was short spacing between births (Katus, 2000; Klesment, Puur, Rahnu, and Sakkeus, 2014). At the same time, premarital cohabitation was a common route to family formation in the generations born since the early 1950s (Puur, Rahnu, Maslauskaite, Stankuniene, and Zakharov, 2012). The early childbearing of the socialist period was encouraged by housing allocation, which favored married couples and families with children (Katus, Puur, and Pöldma, 2004). Furthermore, since the 1960s, the divorce rate in Estonia has been among the highest in the (former) Soviet Union and also high compared to other European countries (Statistics Estonia, 2015).

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the family went through rapid changes. The birth rate increased significantly at the end of the eighties, and was followed by a rapid decrease in the nineties. Marriage was increasingly replaced by cohabitation and the divorce rate continued to increase (Katus, Puur, Pöldma, and Sakkeus, 2007; Katus, Puur and Sakkeus, 2008). Billingsley, Puur, and Sakkeus (2014) argued that one reason behind the low fertility in the 1990s was the change in life course events. They showed that the transition from state socialism to the market economy was accompanied by the increasing importance of employment; getting established in the labor market became more important in the decision to have children under market conditions. Thus, the low fertility in the 1990s is partly explained by the postponement effect.

It can be seen that in post-socialist countries, the changes in demographic behavior coincided with political and economic change and can be interpreted both as a result of the postcommunist transition and as an outcome of the Second demographic transition (Aassve, Billari, and Speder, 2006). The demographic changes in Central and Eastern European countries may be viewed as a manifestation of developmental idealism (Thornton and Philipov, 2009), whereby Western family patterns are mimicked because they suit a modern, changing society. However, studies of human agency in the family sphere in this context are rare. This study tries to fill in this gap by examining whether the characteristics of the parental family have an impact on young adults' life plans and actual family life events in the context of late socialism and the transformation period in Estonia. We look at three life domains: planned and actual ages of moving away from the parental home and having an independent living space; planned and actual ages of marriage or the start of cohabitation; and planned and actual ages of the birth of the first child. …

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