Homogamy and Fertility - The Impact of Partnership Context on Family Formation

Research question/goal: 

The project investigated the interdependencies between partnership formation, education, and fertility behaviour of couples. Low fertility rates in most Western societies have often been explained by women’s increased education, employment, and work orientation. More recent studies also analysed the influence of certain characteristics of men on fertility and pointed out that men with low education frequently remain childless. Building on this evidence and arguments from family economics and bargaining approaches we extended previous research by shifting the focus toward the characteristics of both partners and the context within couples. For the empirical analyses we used cross-sectional data from the German Micro Census and the German Family Panel (pairfam), as well as longitudinal life course data from the study Working and Learning in a Changing World (ALWA). In the first analysis investigating separate effects of general and vocational education of each partner on the timing of the first birth, we found that traditional hypergamy may foster parenthood. But also educational homogamy leads to a higher amount of parents as compared to hypogamous couples, in which the wife’s educational qualification exceeds the husband’s educational degree. Focusing on proceptive behaviour, our results showed symmetrical effects of both partners’ and expected utilities for children indicating that neither women nor men dominate fertility decisions per se. One partner will exercise a ‘veto’ only if the expected loss of utility from a further child is very high. When partners have opposed desires, bargaining power due to advantageous partner market conditions can play a pivotal role for imposing one's will on the partner. When separating the age of first birth from partnership duration at first birth, we found that women show lower transition probabilities to motherhood even within stable partnerships. Our results indicated that educational level has a direct effect on fertility and that the level-effect is only partly mediated by the timing of partnership formation. In addition, even a stable and long-lasting partnership does not compensate for the negative effect of enrolment in education.

Fact sheet

2006 to 2012
Data Sources: 
longitudinal data, secondary data analysis