Pathways to first birth and the changing role of education in Europe and the United States

Julia Mikolai, University of Southampton

This paper applies multistate event history models to study the educational gradient of five pathways to first birth for women born between 1950 and 1969 using harmonised retrospective union and fertility histories (“Harmonized Histories”) from 13 European countries and the United States. Controlling for educational enrolment and birth cohort, we find a persistent negative educational gradient of first birth within cohabitation which remains negative even in countries where the transition into cohabitation has a positive educational gradient. Similarly, having a first birth while being never partnered is associated with low education in all countries. Moreover, on the pathway to first birth within marriage that was preceded by cohabitation, what seems to matter is that the more educated women have a higher risk to marry their cohabiting partner. Once they do so, they are, however, more likely to delay having a first child than their lower educated counterparts. Although the educational gradient of direct marriage shows less consistent results, the timing pattern of the transition to first birth within direct marriage resembles that of the transition to first birth within marriage preceded by cohabitation. All in all, the findings suggest that the meaning of cohabitation by socio-economic status is similar across most of the examined countries; for women from more advantaged background it is likely to be a step in the childbearing process which precedes marriage whereas for the more disadvantaged, cohabitation is more often a context for childbearing.

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Presented in Session 100: Education and fertility