From Cohabitation to Marriage When a Child Is on the Way. A Comparison of Three Former Socialist Countries: Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary 1

By Haragus, Mihaela | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

From Cohabitation to Marriage When a Child Is on the Way. A Comparison of Three Former Socialist Countries: Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary 1


Haragus, Mihaela, Journal of Comparative Family Studies


INTRODUCTION

Societies in Eastern Europe underwent profound social, economic and cultural changes at the beginning of the 1990s, leading to transformations in family related behaviors. Fertility has decreased rapidly, as have marriage rates. Important life events such as leaving parental homes, marriage and childbearing have been postponed to older ages, and alternative forms of living arrangements (consensual unions and childbearing outside marriage) gained much more popularity.

Cohabitation as a form of partnership began to extend to Eastern European countries during the socialist period and accelerated after the change in political regimes (Spéder, 2005; Muresan, 2007a; Philipov and Jasilioniene, 2007; Hoem and Kostova, 2008; Hoem et ah, 2009a; Hoem et ah, 2009b; Thornton and Philipov, 2009). Births in consensual unions increased all over Europe in the last decades, making a much greater contribution to the nonmarital births than single mothers (without a co-residing partner) (Kiernan, 2004; Thomson, 2005; Sobotka and Toulemon, 2008).

Although more women choose cohabitation as their first partnership in recent times, cohabitation has remained linked to marriage in this part of Europe. This, in Heuveline and Timberlake's typology (2004), is cohabitation as a prelude to marriage (lasting a relatively short time and having a low frequency of childbearing) or as a stage in the marriage process (usually leading to marriage, but often after childbirth). Support for this argument is offered by Perelli-Harris and collaborators (2012) who document great variation across European countries in terms of partnership transformation between first conception and first birth.

The main factor that triggers marriage in cohabitating couples is pregnancy (Berrington, 2001; Blossfeld and Mills, 2001; Hoem et al., 2009b) and the effect has been found to be strongly time-dependent. The rate of entry into marriage from cohabitation sharply increases as soon as a woman becomes pregnant but decreases just as sharply if the couple does not marry soon after the childbirth (Berrington, 2001; Blossfeld and Mills, 2001; Manning, 2004; Baizan et al., 2005; Steele et al., 2005; Steele et al., 2006).

The aim of this paper is to study the transformation of consensual unions into marriage in several Eastern European countries and the role of fertility-mainly of anticipated fertility, which is the acknowledgement of a pregnancy-in this process. Since Eastern European countries have undergone profound social, economic and cultural transformations in their transition from socialism to democracy and from a centrally planned to a market economy, we investigate whether pregnancy poses the same pressure towards marriage before and after the change in political regime. Since the literature on childbearing within cohabitation signals the existence of a negative educational gradient, we investigate whether the effect of a pregnancy/birth on the transition to marriage is uniform across social categories.

We choose to compare three former socialist countries, namely Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania, to see how far similarities go and when differences appear. On the one hand, the choice of countries is motivated by the similarities found by some authors in the non-marital fertility behavior in Eastern European countries (Perelli-Harris et ah, 2012). On the other, these countries share a similar background associated with socialist regimes, although they have different cultural and social histories as well as different socio-economic transitions to democracy and market economy.

We carry out our research on data from the first wave of the Generations and Gender Survey (Vikat et ah, 2007). The rich retrospective datasets allow us to reconstruct the partnership and fertility history for several thousands of women in each country. We perform our investigation by means of event history analysis. The novelty of our research consists in investigating, in a comparative perspective, the transformation of consensual unions into marriages when a child is on the way, assessing the effect for different social categories and different periods of time, marked by different social, economic and cultural contexts. …

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