As society has moved further toward nontraditional unions, new research shows traditional marriage is linked to higher fertility rates while cohabitation and relationship instability is linked to lower fertility.
“Marriage and cohabitation are far from indistinguishable in a country often described as a second demographic transition forerunner,” the study out of Finland finds.
The cultural “retreat from marriage” has likely contributed to many societies falling below replacement fertility — about two children per woman — according to Institute for Family Studies senior fellow Dr. Laurie DeRose.
“Fewer enter marriage at all, and those who do marry typically do so later in life, often divorce, and either do not remarry or do not remarry quickly,” she wrote. “The retreat from marriage takes many adult years away from the normative context for childbearing.”
Despite the potential for a divorce and remarriage to increase one’s capacity to have more children — sometimes thought by population scientists to be an “engine for fertility” and a “silver lining” of the dissolution of the union — research shows that “the more common experience is for divorce to suppress childbearing.”
“Union dissolution reduces both intended and unintended births,” DeRose, who is also an assistant professor of sociology at the Catholic University of America, wrote. The study found that “Finns with fewer partnerships had more children.”
Remarriage is not the only issue suppressing fertility.
Many cultures have normalized cohabitation and other non-marital unions as legitimate. Such a structure is also not producing children.
In many cases, re-partnering does not itself bring about marriage, but more often cohabitation, meaning, “people most likely to re-partner were also unlikely to marry the second time around, or as the authors put it, ‘re-partnering behavior is dominated by sequences of nonmarital unions.’”
In the cases where re-partnering did result in a marriage, fertility increased.
Nontraditional unions are not functionally indistinguishable from marriage, and the resulting lack of replacement fertility will, among other things, lead to labor shortages and an inability for societies to care for their elderly.
Part of a solution to the marriage issue, according to University of Virginia sociology professor and director of the National Marriage Project W. Bradford Wilcox, is to “revamp public education to teach the truth about marriage and human flourishing.”