Make It or Break It? How Non-Standard Employment Affects Marriage and Relationship Breakdown Among Cohabiting Unions in Germany and Australia

Inga Lass, University of Melbourne

Many OECD countries have recently seen marked changes in both the sphere of employment and the sphere of private living arrangements. On the one hand, we observe a rising importance of non-standard employment, including fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, part-time, marginal and casual work. On the other hand, an increasing share of people live in nonmarital cohabitations as a pre-stage or alternative to marriage. On this background, the paper investigates how non-standard employment affects relationship transitions, i.e., the likelihood of marriage and separation, in cohabitations in Germany and Australia.

Theory provides contradicting arguments concerning the impact of non-standard employment on relationships. On the one hand, non-standard employment often involves specific strains, like job insecurity and mobility requirements, which can reduce relationship quality and stability. On the other hand, part-time and casual work leave more time for household chores and leisure activities, thereby increasing partnership quality. However, these employment types also increase economic dependency on the partner, which can be contrary to the comparatively egalitarian gender role attitudes of cohabiters.

The paper applies discrete-time event history analyses, jointly estimating the likelihood of marriage and of relationship dissolution in competing risk models. Data for Germany stem from more than 2,000 cohabiting unions from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), and for Australia from more than 4,000 cohabiting unions from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey, for the period 2001-2015.

While results differ across countries, gender and employment type, the study finds evidence that some forms of non-standard employment, especially temporary agency work but also part-time work, have a dual negative impact on cohabitations: They both decrease the likelihood to marry and increase the risk of relationship dissolution.


Many OECD countries have recently seen marked changes in boththe sphere of employment and the sphere of private living arrangements. On theone hand, we observe a rising importance of non-standard employment, includingfixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, part-time, marginal and casualwork. On the other hand, an increasing share of people live in nonmaritalcohabitations as a pre-stage or alternative to marriage. On this background,the paper investigates how non-standard employment affects relationshiptransitions, i.e., the likelihood of marriage and separation, in cohabitationsin Germany and Australia.

Theory provides contradicting arguments concerning the impactof non-standard employment on relationships. On the one hand, non-standardemployment often involves specific strains, like job insecurity and mobilityrequirements, which can reduce relationship quality and stability. On the otherhand, part-time and casual work leave more time for household chores andleisure activities, thereby increasing partnership quality. However, theseemployment types also increase economic dependency on the partner, which can becontrary to the comparatively egalitarian gender role attitudes of cohabiters.

The paper applies discrete-time event history analyses,jointly estimating the likelihood of marriage and of relationship dissolutionin competing risk models. Data for Germany stem from more than 2,000 cohabitingunions from the German Socio-Economic Panel (SOEP), and for Australia from morethan 4,000 cohabiting unions from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics inAustralia (HILDA) Survey, for the period 2001-2015.

An initial, bivariate analysis of the hazard rates ofmarriage and relationship dissolution shows marked differences between Germanyand Australia (see Figures 1 & 2): Both the hazard of marriage and of dissolutionare higher in Australia than in Germany in the first years of the relationship.The paper discusses possible reasons for these differences, relating e.g. todifferent legal consequences of living in a cohabiting union in the twocountries.

Figure 1: Hazard ofmarriage among cohabiting unions

Figure 2: Hazard ofrelationship dissolution among cohabiting unions

The subsequent multivariate analysis provides importantinsights into the impact of non-standard employment on these two relationshiptransitions: While results differ across countries, gender and employment type,the study finds evidence that some forms of non-standard employment, especiallytemporary agency work but also part-time work, have a dual negative impact oncohabitations: They both decrease the likelihood to marry and increase the riskof relationship dissolution in both countries.

Presented in Session 1233: Posters