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The University of Southampton
Social Statistics and DemographyPart of Economic, Social & Political Science

Research project: Childbearing within Cohabitation

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Over the past decades, childbearing within cohabitation has risen sharply throughout most of Europe, Australia and the USA. This project aims to study the diffusion of childbearing within cohabitation using several analytic levels and methodological perspectives.

We will explore the following questions:

Trends: How does fertility differ by union status, and how do these differences change over time? Are there differences by parity, age pattern or timing? How does the decline in marital fertility contribute to the increase in share of nonmarital births? 

Explanations: What are the underlying reasons for increasing childbearing within cohabitation? What has produced variation across countries? How do policies impact and/or respond to childbearing within cohabitation? How do societal-level perceptions of cohabitation, marriage, and childbearing differ across countries?

Life course trajectories: How do the life course trajectories for women who bear children differ by union status? Are women who give birth within cohabitation more likely to experience changes in family structure? Is childbearing within cohabitation associated with future negative social, emotional, or economic outcomes?

To answer these questions, we will use an innovative mixed-methods strategy that:

  • analyses a unique database of harmonised reproductive and union histories
  • conducts qualitative research on the role of policies and general perspectives on nonmarital childbearing, and
  • examines the Generations and Gender surveys in comparative perspective

Ultimately, we aim to develop a new theoretical framework for understanding the diffusion of family change. The research will provide insights into whether life course trajectories are diverging, potentially exacerbating social inequality.

Further information is available at the Nonmarital Childbearing Network website.

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