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.
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The French Generation and Gender Survey (French GGS) has been carried out by the Institut national de la statistique et des études économiques (Insee) and the Institut national d’études démographiques (Ined) in 2005, under the name Étude des relations familiales et intergénérationnelles (ERFI).
It should be noted that the input template of the ERFI survey was designed in such a way that all past partnerships that had started before 1950 were coded as having started in 1950, but this restriction did not apply to marriage dates: 59 unions with a union date = 1950 had a marriage date <1950 and 4 had no marriage date, hence, a total of 63 first unions (i.e. 1.3 % of all first unions) were apparently miscoded. As premarital cohabitation was rare at that time (i.e. 10 % of all marriages started in 1940–1950 (French Family Survey (Insee-Ined 1999), author’s own calculations), it seemed reasonable to assume that the starting date of the partnership was identical with the marriage date in these 59 unions. An alternative would have been to drop the 63 individuals, but in order to have as many second and higher order partnerships as possible, preference was given to replacing the union starting date by the marriage date.
The question on religious practice referred to the current situation, which might have differed from that prevailing during the union. Because divorce might have changed the divorcee’s religious practice, we preferred not to take this variable into account.
After exploration of the data, the effect of age on separation risk was not linear, so using a continuous age variable was excluded. Choosing to cut at the first and last quintiles, and the median, rather than other deciles was most relevant here, theoretically and data-wise, as separation behaviours were the most different at extreme ages at union formation and very little differentiated at other ages (see also Lyngstad and Jalovaara 2010).
It should be noted that these observations are certainly subject to a period effect: This is the period where cohabitation was spreading, thus obviously the behaviour in the second union could be marked by the overall context. However, this should not affect the overall conclusions of this paragraph, because women in second unions were always much more likely to cohabit than women in first unions.
In second union, the lack of significance of the risk of separation in direct marriage is certainly due to the small numbers.
The 63 unions mentioned in footnote 1 constitute only 4.5 % of all first unions formed before 1970. Taking into account the prevalence of premarital cohabitation, only around 0.5 % of the starting dates of all first unions entered before 1970 could be erroneous, and by a few months rather than years: This should not affect the results on trends.
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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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Beaujouan, É. Second Unions Now More Stable than First? A Comparison of Separation Risks by Union Order in France. Eur J Population 32, 293–321 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10680-016-9376-2
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