Changing Lives and New Challenges
Edited by Jacqueline Scott, Shirley Dex and Heather Joshi
Chapter 5: The New Dynamics of Family Formation and the Explosion of Childbearing Outside Marriage
John Ermisch 5.1 INTRODUCTION In 1979, just before the Women and Employment Survey (WES) started interviewing its respondents, couples living together outside legal marriage – cohabiting unions – were relatively rare, as were births outside marriage. Among never married women in 1979, 8 per cent of those aged 20–24 and 18 per cent of those aged 25–29 reported themselves as living in cohabiting unions (Brown and Kiernan 1981). The corresponding percentages from the 2003 British Household Panel Survey were 24 per cent and 41 per cent (weighted data). Even more striking is the rise in childbearing outside marriage: 11 per cent of births were outside marriage in 1979 compared with 41 per cent in 2003. After 1975, when the contraceptive pill became freely available to all women, childbearing outside marriage began to increase rapidly after decades of relative stability (see Figure 5.1). The WES provided comprehensive birth and marriage histories for a nationally representative sample of women, and it also collected retrospective employment histories. Together the histories provide dates of childbirth and start and end dates for marriages, employment (distinguishing and full- and part-time) and non-employment spells. This permitted for the ﬁrst time the analysis of the dynamics of marriage and childbearing in relation to employment. No cohabiting union dates were collected, probably reﬂecting the relative novelty of the phenomenon at the time and perhaps contemporary stigma associated with ‘living together’, which discouraged asking questions about it. Using these data, Ermisch (1991) studied pre-marital childbearing among women who reached...
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