Social Background and Risky Demographic Behaviour. a Cross-National Analysis of the Role of Parental Education, Growing up without Both Parents and Sibling Size

Aart Liefbroer, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI-KNAW)

Some demographic behaviours (e.g. teenage parenthood, teenage partnering, having a child outside a partner relationship, separation) are risky, as they may have negative consequences for future well-being. The odds of experiencing such behaviours depends on one’s family of origin. Young people from families that lack economic resources are at an increased risk of experiencing such events. The same is true for young people who grow up in a non-intact family. However, the extent to which parental background influences risky demographic behaviour may depend on the societal context. I expect that the influence of parental SES and the number of siblings is weaker in societal contexts that facilitate human agency, as such contexts buffer the lack of resources. At the same time, the influence of growing up in a non-intact family may be stronger in such contexts, as young people who have experienced parental break-up may hold more favourable attitudes towards non-traditional family behaviours and societal contexts that facilitate human agency offer better opportunities to act in accordance with such attitudes. I use data from Generation and Gender Surveys conducted in 15 countries and meta-analysis and meta-regression to examine this issue. Generally, parental SES, number of siblings and growing up in a non-intact family all increase the likelihood of experiencing risky demographic behaviours. However, in contexts that offer good opportunities for human agency (as indicated by the HDI score of a country), the positive effect of parental SES and number of siblings on risky is weaker, suggesting that the lack of resources is buffered in countries that offer good opportunities for human agency. At the same time, the consequences of not growing up with both parents on union dissolution and having a child outside a partner relationship is stronger in high HDI countries.

Some demographicbehaviours (e.g. teenage parenthood, teenage partnering, having a child outsidea partner relationship, separation) are risky, in that they may have negativeconsequences for a personÕs future well-being. The odds of experiencing risky demographic behaviours partially dependson oneÕs family of origin. Young people who grow up in families that lackeconomic and social resources are at an increased risk of experiencing suchevents. The same is true for young people who grow up in a non-intact family.Lower levels of parental supervision, but also a more positive attitude towardstraditional family arrangements increases the odds of opting for more ÔriskyÕdemographic behaviours. In this paper, I examine the extent to which theoccurrence of teenage parenthood, teenage partnering, having a child outside apartner relationship and union separation is related to the socio-economicposition of the parents, to the number of siblings in the parental home, and togrowing up in a non-intact family.

Theextent to which parental background influences risky demographic behaviour maydepend on the societal context. I expect that the influence of parental SES and the number of siblingsis weaker in societal contexts that facilitate human agency and self-reliance, as such contexts buffer the lack of resources thatresult from a poor social class background and from having many siblings. Atthe same time, the influence of growing up in a non-intact family may bestronger in such contexts, as young people who have experienced parental break-upmay hold more favourable attitudes towards non-traditional family behavioursand societal contexts that facilitate human agency and self-reliance offerbetter opportunities to act in accordance with such attitudes. Therefore, Ialso examine whether the strength of the effect of parental backgroundindicators varies by countriesÕ level of human agency and development.

I use data fromGeneration and Gender Surveys conducted in 15 countries (Sweden, Norway,Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Poland,Bulgaria, Romania, Lithuania, Russia, Georgia and Australia). I focus on peopleborn between 1966 and 1975. Thus, most respondents experienced events in thefamily formation process after the downfall of the Communist regimes. Given therelatively low number of countries, I use meta-analysis and meta-regression ratherthan multi-level modelling to examine country differences in the effect ofparental background variables.

Table 1 shows theoverall effect of background variables based on meta-analyses. The results showthat the risk of teenage partnership, teenage parenthood, and having a childoutside a relationship decreases with higher parental SES, whereas the risk ofunion dissolution increases with higher parental SES. Having more siblings alsoincreases the risk of teenage parenthood, teenage partnership, and having achild outside a union. Finally, growing up in a non-intact family increases therisk of all four risky behaviours.

The meta-analysesalso show that the effect of the family background factors on all four types ofbehaviour varies across countries (results not shown) in all instances, excepttwo. The effect of growing up in a non-intact family on teenage parenthood andteenage partnership does not vary across the countries included in this study.

In a next step, Iperformed a series of meta-regressions in which I examined whether the strengthof the effect of background variables varies by the level of human agency incountries. I used the Human Development Index (HDI) in the year 2000 as myindicator of the level of human agency. I only performed this analysis if theeffect of background variables was found to vary across countries (see above).The results of the ten analyses are summarized in Table 2. In seven out of theten cases, the effect of family background factors varied by the HDI level in acountry. The effect of parental SES and number of siblings was weaker in highHDI countries, whereas the effect of not growing up with both parents wasstronger in high HDI countries.

Family backgroundcharacteristics like parental SES, number of siblings and growing up in anon-intact family generally increase the likelihood of experiencing riskydemographic behaviours. However, their effect varies across societal contexts.In contexts that offer good opportunities for human agency (as indicated by theHDI score of a country), the positive effect of parental SES and number ofsiblings on risky behaviours is weaker, suggesting that the lack of resourcesrelated to a lower parental SES and having more siblings is buffered incountries that offer good opportunities for human agency. At the same time, theconsequences of not growing up with both parents on union dissolution andhaving a child outside a partner relationship is stronger in high HDIcountries. I interpret this as implying that young people who do not strongly valuetraditional family values are more likely to express their values if countriesoffer good opportunities for human agency.

Presented in Session 1136: Life Course