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Having a Second Child with a New Partner After Separation

Copyright: BrianAJackson

There is a lot of research about the role of social policies in fertility behaviour in contemporary societies particularly with a focus on work and family reconciliation policies. Much less, however, is known about how social policies affect fertility behaviour after separation. In a new study, Kreyenfeld et al. (2017) explore how union dissolution influences when people have a second child and how the impact varies by education and national policy context. For their analysis the authors use data from recent survey and register data for Belgium, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

The results show that the countries radically differ in the prevalence of which people have a second child with a new partner after separation. However, patterns cannot always be explained by differences in the national policy contexts. Although Germany and the United Kingdom have familialistic regimes – which are often seen as counterproductive for fertility because they overburden the family with care burdens – a substantial proportion of second births in new unions are in these countries. Belgium and France hold only an intermediate position, although they are widely regarded as conducive to the compatibility of work and family and emphasise economic independence before and after divorce. The reason for the relatively low prevalence of post-separation births in these countries is that first and second births are closely spaced so that separation often occurs after the second child is born. In Italy and Spain only a negligible proportion of the population has a second child with a new partner, which is due to the low likelihood of dissolving a union and entering a new union. Conditional on entering a new union, the patterns for Italy and Spain are similar to those of the other countries. This suggests that the low second birth fertility in Southern Europe may be explained by social and normative barriers that hinder couples from dissolving unsatisfactory unions and entering new partnerships.

On the level of education, the authors conclude that the strong educational differences in multi-partnered fertility previously found in the United States do not easily transfer to European countries. At least in the case of second birth fertility, the data do not provide consistent and strong evidence that the likelihood of having another child with a new partner is higher for less educated individuals than for those with higher levels of education.

The findings of Kreyenfeld et al. show that separation and divorce are not only relevant for understanding differences in higher-order births or total fertility, but also when people have a second child is greatly affected by separation and divorce, albeit to different degrees in the different countries the authors have considered. Overall, this study highlights the fact that post-separation policies are of growing importance to understanding family behaviour.

Ann Zimmermann