European Journal of Population

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 293–321 | Cite as

Second Unions Now More Stable than First? A Comparison of Separation Risks by Union Order in France

  • Éva Beaujouan


The frequency of union dissolutions increased sharply over the past 40 years in Western Europe and North America, resulting in a rapid growth in the number of persons living with a second partner. In studies of the 1980s, primarily conducted within the context of marriage, second partnerships were generally found to be less stable than first unions, but more recent studies provide more conflicting evidence. Taking the example of France, we study whether the relationship between first and second union stability indeed reversed between the 1970s and the 2000s, and how union and individual characteristics contributed to changes over time. The analysis presented here is based on the French Generations and Gender Survey (2005). The article first provides an overview of the differences in marriage, childbearing and breakup behaviours in first and second unions. Second, a piecewise linear model for repeated events is used to compare women’s dissolution risks in first and second unions. The results show that over time, the higher instability of second compared to first unions disappeared. Further, women in second unions adopted unmarried cohabitation as a living arrangement more often across the whole period and were more likely to have stepchildren, which was associated with less stable unions. Taking into account this diversity of family situations, i.e. controlling for family form and children, second unions were more stable than first unions, even during the past. At both union orders, marriage breakup risks tended to stabilise despite a continuing increase in the prevalence of separation, which suggests that cohabitation increasingly acts as a filter for marriage.


Separation Divorce Partnerships Marriage Stepchildren Second unions 



The author wishes to thank the French “Institut national d’études démographiques”/Ined that provided support for this research through a 3-year Ph.D. scholarship. This research was also supported by the European Research Council under the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007-2013)/ERC Grant Agreement No. 284238 (EURREP). The author is especially grateful to France Prioux and Laurent Toulemon for their supervision and advice, and to Zuzanna Brzozowska for her careful reading and comments of the text.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Wittgenstein Centre for Demography and Human CapitalVienna Institute of Demography/Austrian Academy of SciencesViennaAustria

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