, Volume 48, Issue 1, pp 317–342 | Cite as

Nonmarital Childbearing in Russia: Second Demographic Transition or Pattern of Disadvantage?

  • Brienna Perelli-HarrisEmail author
  • Theodore P. Gerber


Using retrospective union, birth, and education histories that span 1980–2003, this study investigates nonmarital childbearing in contemporary Russia. We employ a combination of methods to decompose fertility rates by union status and analyze the processes that lead to a nonmarital birth. We find that the increase in the percentage of nonmarital births was driven mainly by the growing proportion of women who cohabit before conception, not changing fertility behavior of cohabitors or changes in union behavior after conception. The relationship between education and nonmarital childbearing has remained stable: the least-educated women have the highest birth rates within cohabitation and as single mothers, primarily because of their lower probability of legitimating a nonmarital conception. These findings suggest that nonmarital childbearing Russia has more in common with the pattern of disadvantage in the United States than with the second demographic transition. We also find several aspects of nonmarital childbearing that neither of these perspectives anticipates.


Nonmarital childbearing Cohabitation Fertility Single mothers Russia 



This research was supported by a core grant from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Health and Child Development to the Center for Demography and Ecology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison (R24 HD047873) and the Max Planck Institute. The Russian Generations and Gender Survey (GGS) was conducted by the Independent Institute of Social Policy (Moscow) with the financial support of the Pension Fund of the Russian Federation and the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Germany. The design and standard survey instruments of the GGS were adjusted to the Russian context by the Independent Institute of Social Policy (Moscow) and the Demoscope Independent Research Center (Moscow) in collaboration with the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (Rostock, Germany). We are grateful to Jan Hoem, anonymous reviewers, and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research for comments on earlier versions.


  1. Anderson, E. (1990). Streetwise: Race, class, and change in an urban community. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  2. Becker, G. (1981). A treatise on the family. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Brien, M. J., Lillard, L. A., & Waite, L. J. (1999). Interrelated family-building behaviors: Cohabitation, marriage, and nonmarital conception. Demography, 36, 535–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Brines, J., & Joyner, K. (1999). The ties that bind: Principles of cohesion in cohabitation and marriage. American Sociological Review, 64, 333–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Brown, S., & Booth, A. (1996). Cohabitation versus marriage: A comparison of relationship quality. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 668–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bumpass, L., & Lu, H.-H. (2000). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children’s family contexts in the United States. Population Studies, 54, 29–41.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Carlson, E., & Klinger, A. (1987). Partners in life: Unmarried couples in Hungary. European Journal of Population, 3, 85–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cartwright, K. (2000). Shotgun weddings and the meaning of marriage in Russia: An event history analysis. The History of the Family, 5, 1–23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Edin, K., & Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Gerber, T. P. (2002). Structural change and post-socialist stratification: Labor market transitions in contemporary Russia. American Sociological Review, 67, 629–59.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Gerber, T. P., & Berman, D. (2008). Heterogeneous condom use in Russia. Studies in Family Planning, 39, 1–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Gerber, T. P., & Berman, D. (2010). Entry to marriage and cohabitation in Russia, 1985–2000: Trends, correlates, and explanations. European Journal of Population, 26, 3–31.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Gerber, T. P., & Hout, M. (1998). More shock than therapy: Employment and income in Russia, 1991–1995. American Journal of Sociology, 104, 1–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Gibson-Davis, C., Edin, K., & McLanahan, S. (2005). High hopes but even higher expectations: The retreat from marriage among low-income couples. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67, 1301–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Goldstein, J. R., & Kenney, C. T. (2001). Marriage delayed or marriage forgone? New cohort forecasts of first marriage for U.S. women. American Sociological Review, 66, 506–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Heuveline, P., & Timberlake, J. M. (2004). The role of cohabitation in family formation: The United States in comparative perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1214–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Hoem, J. (1986). The impact of education on modern family-union initiation. European Journal of Population, 2, 113–33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Hoem, J. M., Kostova, D., Jasilioniene, A., & Muresan, C. (2009). Traces of the second demographic transition in central and eastern Europe: Union formation as a demographic manifestation. European Journal of Population, 25, 239–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Houle, R., & Shkolnikov, V. (2005). Low response rates in the cities of Moscow and Sankt-Peterburg and GGS-census comparisons of basic distributions. Working document provided with the GSS data file for Russia. Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany.Google Scholar
  20. Inglehart, R. (1990). Culture shift in advanced industrial society. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Kenney, C. T., & McLanahan, S. S. (2006). Why are cohabiting relationships more violent than marriages? Demography, 43, 127–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Kiernan, K. (2004). Unmarried cohabitation and parenthood: Here to stay? European perspectives. In D. P. Moynihan, T. Smeeding, & L. Rainwater (Eds.), The future of the family (pp. 66–95). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  23. Klugman, J., & Motivans, A. (Eds.). (2001). Single parents and child welfare in the New Russia. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  24. Kon, I. S. (1995). The sexual revolution in Russia: From the age of the Czars to today. Translated by J. Riordan. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  25. Kostova, D. (2007). The emergence of cohabitation in a transitional socio-economic context: Evidence from Bulgaria and Russia. Demografia, 50(5), 135–62.Google Scholar
  26. Lesthaeghe, R. J., & Neidert, L. (2006). The second demographic transition in the United States: Exception or textbook example? Population and Development Review, 32, 669–98.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lesthaeghe, R., & Surkyn, J. (2002). New forms of household formation in central and eastern Europe: Are they related to newly emerging value orientations? Interuniversity papers in demography. Brussels, Belgium: Interface Demography (SOCO), Vrije Universiteit Brussel.Google Scholar
  28. Lichter, D., Roempke Graefe, D., & Brown, J. B. (2003). Is marriage a panacea? Union formation among economically disadvantaged unwed mothers. Social Problems, 50, 60–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Maleva, T., & Sinyavskaya, O. (2007). Roditeli i Deti, Myzhchini i Zhenschini v Semye i Obschestve [Parents and children, men and women in family and society], vol. 1. Moscow: IISP.Google Scholar
  30. Manning, W. D. (1993). Marriage and cohabitation following premarital conception. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 55, 839–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: How children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41, 607–27.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Mroz, T., & Popkin, B. V. (1995). Poverty and the economic transition in the Russian federation. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 22, 2–31.Google Scholar
  33. Musick, K. (2007). Cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing and the marriage process. Demographic Research, 16, article 9:249–86. Available online at
  34. Muszynska, M. (2008). Women’s employment and union dissolution in a changing socio-economic context in Russia. Demographic Research, 18, article 6:181–204. Available online at
  35. Oppenheimer, V. K. (2003). Cohabiting and marriage during young men’s career-development process. Demography, 40, 127–49.Google Scholar
  36. Perelli-Harris, B. (2005). The path to lowest-low fertility in Ukraine. Population Studies, 59, 55–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Perelli-Harris, B. (2006). The influence of informal work and subjective well-being on childbearing in post-Soviet Russia. Population and Development Review, 32, 729–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Perelli-Harris, B., Sigle-Rushton, W., Lappegard, T., Jasilioniene, A., Di Giulio, P., Keizer, R., & Koeppen, K. (2009). Examining nonmarital childbearing in Europe: Does childbearing change the meaning of cohabitation? Presented at the annual meeting of the Population Association of America, Detroit, April 30–May 2.Google Scholar
  39. Philipov, D., & Jasiloniene, A. (2008). Union formation and fertility in Bulgaria and Russia: A life table description of recent trends. Demographic Research, 19, article 62:2057–14. Available online at
  40. Raley, R. K. (2001). Increasing fertility in cohabiting unions: Evidence for the second demographic transition? Demography, 38, 59–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rindfuss, R. R., Morgan, S. P., & Offutt, K. (1996). Education and the changing age pattern of American fertility: 1963–1989. Demography, 33, 277–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Roussel, L. (1989). La famille incertaine [The uncertain family]. Paris: Odile Jacob.Google Scholar
  43. Smith, H. L., Morgan, S. P., & Koropeckyj-Cox, T. (1996). A decomposition of trends in the nonmarital fertility ratios of blacks and whites in the United States, 1960–1992. Demography, 33, 141–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Sobotka, T. 2008. “The diverse faces of the second demographic transition in Europe.” Demographic Research, 19, article 8:171–224. Available online at
  45. Sobotka, T., Zeman, K., & Kantorová, V. (2003). Demographic shifts in the Czech Republic after 1989: A second demographic transition view. European Journal of Population, 19, 249–77.Google Scholar
  46. Steele, F., Joshi, H., Kallis, C., & Goldstein, H. (2006). Changing compatibility of cohabitation and childbearing between young British women born in 1958 and 1970. Population Studies, 60, 137–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Surkyn, J., & Lesthaeghe, R. (2004). Value orientations and the second demographic transition (SDT) in northern, western, and southern Europe: An update. Demographic Research, Special Collection 3, article 3:45–86. Available online at
  48. Upchurch, D. M., Lillard, L. A., & Panis, C. W. A. (2002). Nonmarital childbearing: Influences of education, marriage, and fertility. Demography, 39, 311–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Van de Kaa, D. (2001). Postmodern fertility preferences: From changing value orientation to new behavior. Population and Development Review, 27(Suppl.), 290–331.Google Scholar
  50. Ventura, S. (2009). Changing patterns of nonmarital childbearing in the United States (NCHS Data Brief No. 18). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.Google Scholar
  51. Vikat, A., Spéder, Z., Beets, G., Billari, F. C., Bühler, C., Désesquelles, A., et al. (2007). Generations and gender survey (GGS): Towards a better understanding of relationships and processes in the life course. Demographic Research, 17, article 14):389–440. Available online at
  52. Vishnevsky, A. G. (1996). Family, fertility, and demographic dynamics in Russia: Analysis and forecast. In J. Da Vanzo (Ed.), Russia’s demographic “crisis” (pp. 1–35). Santa Monica, CA: RAND Center for Russia and Eurasia.Google Scholar
  53. Weakliem, D. L. (2002). The effects of education on political opinions: An international study. International Journal of Public Opinion Research, 13, 141–57.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wu, L. L., Bumpass, L. L., & Musick, K. (2001). Historical and life course trajectories of nonmarital childbearing. In L. L. Wu & B. Wolfe (Eds.), Out of wedlock: Causes and consequences of nonmarital fertility (pp. 3–48). New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  55. Wu, L. L., & Wolfe, B. (Eds.). (2001). Out of wedlock: Causes and consequences of nonmarital fertility. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  56. Zakharov, S. V. (2008). The first and second demographic transition in Russia: Recent trends in the context of historic experience. In T. Frejka, T. Sobotka, J. Hoem, & L. Toulemon (Eds.), Childbearing trends and policies: Country case studies (pp. 907–72). Rostock, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research.Google Scholar
  57. Zakharov, S. V., Vishnevskii, A. G., & Sakevich, V. I. (2005). Brachnost i rozhdaemost [Marriage and fertility]. In A. G. Vishnevskii (Ed.), Naselenie Rossii [Population of Russia] (pp. 40–130). Moscow: Higher School of Economics.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Population Association of America 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Max Planck Institute for Demographic ResearchRostockGermany
  2. 2.Department of SociologyUniversity of Wisconsin–MadisonMadisonUSA

Personalised recommendations