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Children (Still) Stabilize Relationships

A look at Norway

Whether children stabilize or destabilize unions has long interested nearly everyone. Most studies by social scientists indicate the former—that kids are a stabilizing force in relationships—but union types are becoming more diverse, and with them social norms.

In their recent study, Rannveig Kaldager Hart, Torkild Hovde Lyngstad and Elina Vinberg take another look at Norway and expand on previous research by including data on cohabiting couples. Plus, by using data from the Norwegian Generations and Gender Programme, they were able to look at changes over time.

In the study, the authors confirm that couples with children have a lower chance of separating, especially when the children are young, and that the risk varies by the number of children.

Interestingly, they also find that the difference in dissolution rates between childless couples and parents has remained relatively stable over time, even as the overall probability of parental separation has increased substantially. This begs the question: how? The authors suggest that while the transition to parenthood is one of the toughest a couple faces, parents are also held to stricter norms against separation. Meanwhile, though childless couples are freer to break up, they are probably more likely to have egalitarian—and so stable—relationships.


Original paper: Hart, R.K., Lyngstad, T.H. and Vinberg, E. (2017). Children and Union Dissolution across Four Decates: Evidence from Norway. European Sociological Review, doi: 10.1093/esr/jcx039


This publication is partly funded by the Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under grant agreement n° 739511 for the project Generations and Gender Programme: Evaluate, Plan, Initiate