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.
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In 2016, for instance, less than two percent of all first births were to mothers older than age 40 (Destatis 2018). Unfortunately, official data do no allow for parity specific analysis of father’s age at birth: the only available information refers to the fact that 13% births of paternal birth events were experienced by men who were older than 40 years. Based on the data on women, we assume that only a small share of these events refers to first births. Among women only 29% of the births to mothers older than 40 years are first births. If the data on men would reveal a similar pattern, around 4% of the childless men in our data would become fathers after age 40.
Different OM cost specifications and distance measures mostly produced substantively similar results, but less homogenous patterns of relationship histories.
In the German education system, this corresponds to the Abitur or equivalent diploma.
Note that respondents/couples are also considered to be infertile if they or their current partner use sterilization for contraception.
In general, the level of infertility and sterility is comparatively high in pairfam because of the inclusive measurement approach which is based on self-reported assessment of their own and their partner’s fertility and contraception behavior (sterilization). When available, pairfam used the direct accounts of the partners. Among the parents in our sample 39% are infertile due to their own or their partner’s sterilization. Among the childless the respective figure is much lower (10%).
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Raab, M., Struffolino, E. The Heterogeneity of Partnership Trajectories to Childlessness in Germany. Eur J Population 36, 53–70 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-019-09519-y
- Partnership histories
- Sequence analysis