Volume 36 - Article 20 | Pages 609–626  

The timing of marriage vis-à-vis coresidence and childbearing in Europe and the United States

By Jennifer A. Holland


Objective: These descriptive findings extend Holland’s (2013) marriage typology by linking the timing of marriage, childbearing, and cohabitation, and apply it to a range of European countries and the United States. The meaning of marriage is organized around six ideal types: Direct Family-Forming, Post-Cohabitation Family-Forming, Conception-Related Legitimizing, Birth-Related Legitimizing, Reinforcing, and Capstone marriage.

Methods: I present descriptive tabulations of data from the Harmonized Histories, covering 17 European countries and the United States, to highlight continuity and change in the context of marriage across the life course, cohorts, and countries.

Results: Although smaller shares of women entered marriage at each age across cohorts, there is increasing diversity in the timing and context of marriage. Family-Forming marriage continues to be the majority marriage experience, but Direct Family-Forming marriage has declined and Post-Cohabitation Family-Forming marriage has increased in many contexts. Conception-Related Legitimizing marriages became more important in Central and Eastern Europe but less common in Western, Northern, and Anglo-Saxon countries. Limited evidence of growth in post-first-birth marriages suggests that childbearing intentions or a first conception continue to be important triggers for marriage, although this may be changing in Nordic, Anglo-Saxon, and some Western European countries.

Conclusions: While most people who marry do so prior to or in the absence of a first conception, increasingly marriage is not the first step in the family-building process. Still, for many women in diverse country contexts, marriage continues to be very closely linked to initiating childbearing.

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