Educational Differentials in the Impact of Micro- and Macro-Level Economic Conditions on Union Formation in France (1993-2008)

By Vergauwen, Jorik; Neels, Karel et al. | Population, October 1, 2016 | Go to article overview

Educational Differentials in the Impact of Micro- and Macro-Level Economic Conditions on Union Formation in France (1993-2008)


Vergauwen, Jorik, Neels, Karel, Wood, Jonas, Population


A substantial body of literature has addressed the association between micro-level employment status and aggregate-level economic conditions on the one hand, and fertility patterns on the other. Although union formation has repeatedly been suggested as one of the main pathways through which adverse economic conditions affect family formation, the impact of individualand aggregate-level (un)employment on union formation has received less attention (De Lange et al., 2014; Neels et al., 2013; Sobotka et al., 2011). Using longitudinal micro-data from the Generations and Gender Survey (GGS), in tandem with contextual data on economic conditions, this paper addresses how variation in both individual-level labour market positions and aggregatelevel economic conditions affected entry into a first co-residential union among French men and women between 1993 and 2008.

Most research on the association between economic conditions and union formation has focused on the importance of individual-level labour market characteristics (such as income and employment) (Kalmijn, 2011), without differentiating these effects by level of education. Our study contributes to this literature in two ways. First, we consider whether the association between both aggregate- and individual-level economic conditions and union formation varies by level of education. On the one hand, compared to low-educated individuals, highly educated groups have more favourable employment and income prospects and feel more job secure (Anderson and Pontusson, 2007). Furthermore, those with higher qualifications have been found to crowd out low-qualified individuals in the competition for lower-skilled jobs during economic adversity (Pollmann-Schult, 2005). In the event of unemployment or macro-economic adversity, this suggests that highly educated individuals are less restricted by unfavourable employment prospects in relation to partnership formation. On the other hand, as highly educated individuals generally follow occupational trajectories where early career investments yield higher returns in later career stages (Liefbroer and Corijn, 1999), unemployment, over-qualification or employment uncertainty may lead to postponement of union formation until a stable labour market position is established. Lower educated individuals, in contrast, have less favourable income and employment prospects. They are often disproportionately disadvantaged in periods of economic hardship, being more frequently employed in recession-sensitive sectors, and may have to compete with more qualified individuals to fill vacancies for lower-skilled work. Although labour market insecurities may delay union formation regardless of level of education, it has been suggested that particularly low-educated individuals may revert to union and family formation in a context of limited employment opportunities to reduce uncertainty (Friedman et al., 1994).

Second, we examine whether the association between education, economic conditions and entry into a first co-residential union differs by sex. Whereas the employment position of men is important in both male-breadwinner and dual-earner households, the importance of women's employment is more likely to depend on their relative income position in the household. Particularly low-educated women are more likely to have secondary income positions in a couple, making their employment position less decisive with respect to cohabitation or marriage. Among highly educated women, increasing employment and earnings may, on the one hand, encourage union formation to facilitate cost-sharing when setting up an independent household (Jalovaara, 2012); on the other hand, female employment may promote singlehood, as financial independence allows women to postpone partnership formation until an appropriate partner is found (Dykstra and Poortman, 2010).

I. Theoretical background and hypotheses

In this section we first consider patterns of union formation and the economic situation of French young adults. …

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