Growing up in the Netherlands (cohorts 1979-2011): Increasing Class Differences in Stability and Complexity?

Ruben van Gaalen, University of Amsterdam

In Western societies unmarried cohabitation, childbirth out of wedlock and parental divorce have become more prevalent among the lower class than the higher class, this might increase the inequality between the offspring of different social strata (Amato, Booth, McHale, & Van Hook, 2015; McLanahan, 2004). Because unmarried cohabitation and parental divorce on average has adverse consequences for children (Amato, 2010), the increased risk among lower educated parents of experiencing these events poses their children at a disadvantage. On the other hand, higher educated seem to re-invent marriage and relationship stability. In general, family stability might become the new privilege of the higher class, whereas family complexity might become more common within the lower class. In this paper, we give an overview of the major demographic changes that have occurred in households with children in the past decades, from the perspective of the child and by the social class of the parents. We will depict the educational gradient in the prevalence of unmarried parenthood, divorce and separation, step-parenthood and step-siblings. Data is retrieved from the System of Social statistical Datasets (SSD) of Statistics Netherlands (CBS). The SSD is an integrated, longitudinal database of numerous registers and surveys, containing the most important socioeconomic and socio-demographic variables – checked on consistency – of the complete population of the Netherlands (Bakker, van Rooijen en Van Toor, 2014). All parents and children can be linked via the Dutch Population Register (GBA), the backbone of the SSD. We use data on all children born in 1979-1981, 1989-1991, 1999-2001 and 2009-2011.

BACKGROUND

Social acceptance, mediation and statutory regulations on average may normalize non-standard family forms. However, in Western societies unmarried cohabitation, childbirth out of wedlock and parental divorce have become more prevalent among the lower class than the higher class, this might increase the inequality between the offspring of different social strata (Amato, Booth, McHale, & Van Hook, 2015; McLanahan, 2004). Because unmarried cohabitation and parental divorce on average has adverse consequences for children (Amato, 2010), the increased risk among lower educated parents of experiencing these events poses their children at a disadvantage. On the other hand, higher educated seem to re-invent marriage and relationship stability. In general, family stability might become the new privilege of the higher class, whereas family complexity might become more common within the lower class.

In this study we investigate the education gradient to the extent that the family structure of small children in the Netherlands became more complex in the past 20 years. We give an overview of the major demographic changes that have occurred in households with children, from the perspective of the child and by the social class of the parents. We are not only focused on the proposed educational differences in the development of family complexity, but also the possible gradient in the effects of family instability for the children concerned.

HYPOTHESES

    • The first hypothesis is that children of lower educated people are more likely to grow in a more complex family setting, relative to children of higher educated parents.
    • The second hypothesis is that this educational gradient is widening of birth cohorts.
    • The third hypothesis is that the consequences (here their educational attainment) of family complexity for children of lower educated parents are more negative than for children of middle and higher educated parents.

DATA & METHOD

Unique micro data is retrieved from the System of Social statistical Datasets (SSD) of Statistics Netherlands (CBS). The SSD is an integrated, longitudinal database of numerous registers and surveys, containing the most important socioeconomic and socio-demographic variables – checked on consistency – of the complete population of the Netherlands (Bakker, van Rooijen en Van Toor, 2014). All parents and children can be linked via the Dutch Population Register (GBA), the backbone of the SSD. We use data on all children born in 1979-1981, 1989-1991, 1999-2001 and 2009-2011 (N=2.4 million).

We will depict (and test the proposed hypotheses) on the educational gradient in the prevalence of unmarried parenthood, divorce and separation, step-parenthood and step-siblings across cohorts. We also will model the differences in consequences of the dynamics in the parental structure for the development of the early educational career of the children (focussing on 1979-1981, 1989-1991, 1999-2001).

FIRST RESULTS

We find that the development of increasing family complexity and diversity continues until today, but not for all in the same direction. The low, middle and higher educated parents seem to be leading different lives: Lower educated parents lead more risky demographic lives (relatively often young, unmarried, lone parenthood), whereas higher educated parents lead much more stable lives and this educational gradient is growing relatively fast. Strikingly, especially the higher educated seem to be able to live more en more privileged lives regarding family stability. In our study, we also show the results regarding the possible growing inequality in the accumulation of negative life events in the lives of small children.

Table 1: Percentage living with both biological parents

15-year olds, born in

Mother 1980 1990 2000

Lower educated 82 71 61

Middle educated 83 78 74

Higher educated 83 81 78

LITERATURE

Amato, P. R., 2000. The consequences of divorce for adults and children. Journal of Marriage and Family 62, 1269–1287.

Amato, P.R., Booth, A., McHale, S. M., & Van Hook, J. (Eds.). (2015). Families in an Era of Increasing Inequality. National Symposium on Family Issues (Vol. 5). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Bakker, B.F.M., J. van Rooijen en L. van Toor, 2014,The system of social statistical datasets of Statistics Netherlands: An integral approach to the production of register-based social statistics, Journal of the International Association for Official Statistics, p. 1–14.

McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging Destinies: How Children Are Faring Under the Second Demographic Transition. Demography, 41(4), 607-627.

Presented in Session 1113: Families and Households