Having children and getting married are closely connected events. However, it is still an open question under which conditions the birth of a child actually leads to marriage (or not). In a new study, Nicolai Gröpler, Johannes Huinink and Timo Peter (University of Bremen) looked at this question by examining cohabiting couples’ marriage behaviour when they have a child.
The authors relied on an international longitudinal dataset stemming from two sources of survey data: the Generations and Gender Programme (GGP) and the German Family Panel (pairfam). They studied Austria, France, Germany and Hungary, four neighbouring European societies with overall ideological similarities in their social and family policy, yet with distinct institutional features beyond that.
Their results suggest that pregnancy significantly increases the marriage rate in Austria, Germany and Hungary, but not in France. Based on a review of relevant cross-country differences in family policy, the legal status of unmarried and married couples, and family-related cultural norms, they argue that what may be the crucial factor distinguishing France from the other countries is the economic independence of mothers from their partner that their family policy allows. In particular, extensive public provision of childcare and further targeted measures deliberately promote mothers’ attachment to the labour market in France, more than in other countries. After childbirth, the marriage rate drops to pre-pregnancy levels in Austria and Germany and even below that in Hungary, where normative pressure from relatives or the wider community is probably responsible for this drop. Interestingly, additional analyses indicate a polarization between one group following this normative pressure to marry and another group doing quite the opposite: The majority of cohabiting couples in Hungary do not get married around childbirth, but those who do almost exclusively marry before childbirth. This pattern may be typical of a society in transition, where the potential to shape marriage patterns by relevant norms still prevails.
Overall, the findings point to a critical role of socio-cultural contexts in which couples make relevant decisions about their private lives. As such, to answer the question under which conditions the birth of a child actually leads to marriage, we must be aware of cross-country differences due to the impact of societal differences on distinct patterns of marriage in connection with childbirth for each country.