Changing Attitudes toward Marriage and Children in Six Countries

Zoya Gubernskaya, University of California, Irvine

This paper examines changes in attitudes toward marriage and children in Austria, West Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the U.S. using International Social Survey Program data for 1988, 1994, and 2002. Consistent with the idea of deinstitutionalization of marriage and the second demographic transition theory, public opinion in these countries has been moving away from traditional norms of universal marriage and obligatory fertility. However, cross-country differences are significant: Dutch were and remain the most non-traditional, while Americans and Austrians are the least non-traditional. In all countries, women, never married, better educated, employed, and relatively secularized individuals hold less traditional views about marriage and children. Although younger cohorts are consistently less traditional than older generations, shifts in public opinion do not proceed linearly in time and uniformly across socio-demographic groups. Increased polarization of attitudes toward marriage and children by gender and marital status might have implications for family policy.

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Presented in Session 178: Comparative Perspectives on Union Formation