Regional Sex Ratio and the Dissolution of Relationships in Germany

Abstract

The aim of this study is to analyse the connection between relationship stability and attractive alternatives, which is stressed in micro-level theories on union dissolution. The stability of relationships can be influenced by the availability of alternative partners, whereby the probability that a person will meet these alternatives is determined by the distribution of individuals with specific characteristics in the contextual setting the person is embedded in. Research on this macro–micro connection is sparse in Europe. The availability of alternatives on the contextual level is operationalised through varying sex ratios between and within German districts. The estimation of the union dissolution risk as a function of individual and contextual predictors is based on a discrete-time multilevel event-history analysis using pairfam data and data from official statistics. The main hypothesis, which asserts that there is a positive connection between unbalanced sex ratios and union dissolution, is not supported. This result calls into question the robustness of previous findings.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    According to their regional study, approx. 85% of couples in Germany meet in a radius of 20 km. The formation of a relationship in a radius of over 100 kilometres is rare (2–5% of the relationships; Lengerer 2001: 142).

  2. 2.

    The effect remains significant after including various individual- and contextual-level variables. Female labour force participation and geographic mobility are likely to increase the divorce risk, which is not the case for the urban–rural variable (South and Lloyd 1995: 31; South 1995).

  3. 3.

    The availability ratio is computed by contrasting a weighting factor of the potential partners with the weighting factor of competing individuals in one district (Eckhard and Stauder 2016: 126f.; Goldman et al. 1984).

  4. 4.

    It is important to point out that the potential effect of sex ratios is stochastic: it is not assumed that individuals are perfectly informed about sex distributions in their environment and partner market opportunities. What matters is that sex ratios influence a person’s real chances of meeting an (alternative) partner in his or her everyday life (Guttentag and Secord 1983: 162).

  5. 5.

    Furthermore, Stauder (2015) found that the social structure of districts shapes micro-level partner markets in Germany. Hence, the district-level seems to be an appropriate regional unit to investigate the association between regional sex ratio and individual-level union dissolution. Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that strong variations in intermediate-level sex ratios, i.e. in sex ratios within one district, are likely to diminish the connection between the district-level and the individual-level risks of union dissolution.

  6. 6.

    Of those, 107 are classified as cities without districts and 295 are classified as districts. The average population in cities without districts is 242,598 individuals and approx. 1392 people per square kilometre. In rural districts, the average population is 187,255 individuals and about 204 people per square kilometre (Statistisches Bundesamt 2015).

  7. 7.

    Only the first relationship in the observation window is analysed. It is likely that some people have shorter relationships and are more likely to change relationships—characteristics that are difficult to control for (Kulu 2012: 886; Allison 1984: 54). This unobserved heterogeneity would require the integration of another (here: third) level of analysis (Steele 2011), which leads to additional model restrictions and convergence problems (Snijders and Bosker 2012: 210).

  8. 8.

    No limitations are made regarding the married population (South and Lloyd 1995), as a marriage is no guarantee of “retirement” from the available partner market (Stauder 2006: 617).

  9. 9.

    Hence, the distribution of sex ratios is comparable with sex ratio distributions from other international studies (see South et al. 2001: 748).

  10. 10.

    The adjusted sample for the final analysis consists of valid records in all variables (listwise exclusion). For this reason, 305 out of 402 German districts could be analysed, and 4766 relationships remain in the final sample. The event data (person-period format) are transformed into a person-based dataset (wide format). Time-variant variables are averaged over individual-specific means.

  11. 11.

    A model without relationship-specific investments shows a significant influence of the degree of institutionalisation on union dissolution, which levels out after the inclusion of the relationship-specific investment variables.

  12. 12.

    With this model, we cannot distinguish whether the effect is a pure age effect or a cohort effect on union dissolution.

  13. 13.

    The distribution of current gender relations between the German regional levels cannot be compared with a so-called marriage squeeze, which was, for example, observed in the post-war period (e.g., Martin 2001). Thus, the analysed sex ratios may not represent a substantial male or female surplus.

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Acknowledgements

This paper uses data from the German Family Panel pairfam, coordinated by Josef Brüderl, Karsten Hank, Johannes Huinink, Bernhard Nauck, Franz Neyer, and Sabine Walper. Pairfam is funded as a long-term project by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

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Appendix

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See Fig. 1.

Fig. 1
figure1

Source: Own computation with regional data (Statistische Ämter des Bundes und der Länder 2014, 2016) in R version 3.3.2 from 2016-10-31

Sex ratios in German districts (2012). Age group: 16–49-olds; SR sex ratio.

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Obersneider, M., Janssen, J. & Wagner, M. Regional Sex Ratio and the Dissolution of Relationships in Germany. Eur J Population 35, 825–849 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-018-9506-0

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Keywords

  • Sex ratio
  • Union dissolution
  • Divorce
  • Partner market
  • Multilevel event-history
  • pairfam