Cohabitation and Parental Separation: Cohort change in Italy, Great Britain, and Scandinavia
Abstract: In this paper, we investigate through microsimulation the link between (1) increases in cohabiting first births; (2) shifting differentials in separation rates for parents who are cohabiting versus married at first birth; and (3) cohort change in overall rates of parental separation. Analyses are based on representative surveys in Italy, Great Britain and Scandinavia (represented by Norway and Sweden). We use the hypothetical populations to decompose changes in parental separation across maternal birth cohorts (1940s to 1950s, 1950s to 1960s, 1960s to 1970s), identifying how much of the change can be attributed to shifts in union status at first birth and how much to change in separation rates for each union type. When cohabiting births were uncommon, increases in parental separation were driven by increases in parental divorce. When cohabiting parenthood became more visible, it also became a larger component, but continued increases in parental divorce also contributed to increasing parental separation rates. When cohabiting births became quite common, the higher separation rates of cohabiting couples begin to play a greater role than marital divorce. When most couples had their first birth in cohabitation, those having children in marriage were increasingly selected from the most stable relationships and their decreasing divorce rates offset the fact that increasing proportions of children were born in somewhat less stable cohabiting unions.