Education and diverging family trajectories in Britain: new insights from microsimulation

Maria Winkler-Dworak, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Eva Beaujouan, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton
Martin Spielauer, Statistics Canada

According to the “Diverging Destinies” thesis, changes in family behaviour associated with the Second Demographic Transition have meant that more educated women tend to be exposed to gaining trajectories, with later childbearing and maternal employment, while women with fewest resources tend to pursue loosing trajectories associated with early, non-marital childbearing and partnership dissolution. There has thus been in the US a divergence in the opportunities for these groups of women, and an increasing disparity of life chances for their children. This paper examines, using a long time series of retrospective fertility and partnership histories, how the family trajectories of British women have changed in recent decades, and the extent to which demographic experiences have diverged according to education. Childlessness is becoming more and more frequent among highly educated women, and births out of a co-residing union increasingly frequent among the lower educated. On the other hand, the differentials in having all children in partnerships or experiencing first partnership dissolution have not increased. A microsimulation model will allow us to estimate the interrelationships between partnership formation, fertility, and partnership dissolution in a holistic way and thus permit us to project the completed trajectories of cohorts born in the 1970s and early 1980s who have yet to reach the end of their reproductive years, under varying assumptions. The paper concludes with a discussion of questions and policy implications that the findings raise.

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Presented in Session 14: Family transitions, employment and earnings