A Nation of Bastards? Nonmarital cohabitation, childbearing, and first-marriage formation in Iceland, 1994-2013

2019-03-09T17:12:07Z (GMT) by Ari Klængur Jónsson
Abstract: Nowhere in the developed world is extramarital childbearing more pervasive than in Iceland. Roughly 70% of children are born outside of marriage, thereof 85% of firstborn, which, on the surface, puts Iceland at the vanguard of a development often associated with a second demographic transition. In this study we investigate the union-formation behaviour of Icelandic women during a period of 20 years with the objectives of gaining insight into the interplay of childbearing, cohabitation, and marriage; and to enhance our understanding of the nature and function of cohabitation in the family-building process. We use population register data, which are analysed by means of event history techniques, and presented as annual indices of entry into cohabitation and first-marriage formation respectively. We find indications of forceful postponement of first-registered cohabitation formation, but a stable portion of around 80% of women registered cohabitation before any first marriage or age 46. Around 70% of women married before age 46, and the standardized marriage rates remained relatively stable during most of our study period. Our findings suggest that within a context such as the Icelandic one most people tend to marry, regardless of the prevalence of cohabitation, and that social policies regulating cohabitation may have limited impact on marriage intensities. We propose that registered cohabitation should be seen as providing a semi-regulated union status for parents in relation to childbearing. Marriage on the other hand could be seen as providing an elevated union status to couples.