The Heterogeneity of Partnership Trajectories to Childlessness in Germany

Abstract

In recent decades, childlessness has increased across many European countries. In addition to socioeconomic characteristics, having a partner is considered a prerequisite in most fertility studies. Yet, still little is known about the partnership biographies of childless women and men. We assess the heterogeneity in the partnership trajectories of childless persons in Germany and explore compositional differences of partnership trajectories by gender and education. We use data from the German Family Panel to reconstruct partnership biographies reflecting the occurrence and frequency of different partnership states (singleness, living apart together, cohabitation, marriage). The sample comprises women and men born 1971–1973 whose life courses are observed from age 18–40. Applying sequence and cluster analysis, we identify five patterns of partnership trajectories: (1) ‘Marriage’ (14.6%); (2) ‘Long-term cohabitation’ (11.8%) with one partner; (3) ‘Serial cohabitation’ (15.6%); (4) ‘LAT’ (18.8%), long-term/multiple living-apart-together relationships; and (5) ‘Single’ (39.3%), long-term singleness. Men are overrepresented in the ‘Single’ cluster, especially if highly educated. Women are more often married and more likely to experience long-lasting singleness or multiple LAT episodes when being highly educated. We speculate that theories predicting high levels of childlessness in contexts where gender norms and work-family policies do not account for the increasing gender equality in education and labor force participation might also explain differences in the pathways leading to childlessness. Generally, our findings point at a more elaborate conceptualization of childlessness that moves away from a binary cross-sectional indicator and set the ground for future cross-national comparisons.

Publication
European Journal of Population, (online first), doi:10.1007/s10680-019-09519-y