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Bielefeld Graduate School

in History and Sociology

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Inga Laß



The Impact of Employment Insecurity on Partnership and Parenthood Decisions. Evidence from Couples in Germany and Australia

During the past decades, many OECD countries have seen a retreat of the standard employment relationship and a corresponding increase in non-standard forms of employment, such as fixed-term contracts, temporary agency work, part-time work and casual work. While the economic consequences of this development, e.g. for workers' income and career prospects, have received much attention in prior research, less is known about how these changes affect workers' family lives.

Against this background, the thesis investigates how insecure employment situations affect partnership and parenthood decisions. The study looks at both objective indicators (i.e. non-standard forms of employment, unemployment) and subjective indicators of employment insecurity (e.g. perceived job insecurity, concern about the economic situation). Two partnership events are at the centre of the study: the transition to first parenthood and the risk of relationship dissolution. A special emphasis is put on the partnership context as a mediator between an individual's employment situation and his or her partnership and fertility outcomes. Thus, the study not only investigates the impact of each partner's individual employment situation but also the joint impact of the couple's employment constellation. The data stem from two nationally representative longitudinal household surveys, the German Socio-Economic Panel Study (SOEP) (1984-2013) and the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) Survey (2001-2013).

The first empirical chapter investigates the impact of employment insecurity on first childbirth in Germany (during the period 1985 to 2013). In order to accommodate diverging and changing gender regimes, the chapter compares couples in East and West Germany as well different couple cohorts in West Germany. One of the key findings is a negative impact of the female partner's insecure employment (such as fixed-term contracts and perceived job insecurity) on first parenthood. Furthermore, the analysis reveals East-West differences in the link between the employment situation and first parenthood. For example, unemployment and economic inactivity of the female partner have a positive effect on first childbirth in the West but not in the East. Further, the impact of one partner's employment situation varies with that of the other partner.

The second empirical chapter takes on an internationally comparative perspective by analysing the impact of employment insecurity on first childbirth among couples in Germany and Australia (for the period 2001 to 2013). These two countries vary markedly regarding the employment system and welfare regime but at the same time share a similar gender regime. Again, a secure employment position of the female partner proves crucial for childbearing decisions. In particular, temporary agency work and perceived job insecurity among women negatively impact on first parenthood in both countries.

The third empirical chapter investigates the impact of non-standard forms of employment on partnership conflicts and the risk of partnership dissolution in Germany (in the period 2001 to 2013). The chapter moves beyond previous dissolution studies by comparing cohabiting unions and marriages. The key result is that the employment situation has very different effects on these two partnership types, with cohabiting unions being less resilient to strains from the employment sphere. For example, temporary agency work among either partner negatively affects relationship stability in cohabiting unions but not in marriages. Similarly, women's part-time work and economic inactivity destabilise cohabiting unions but have a stabilising effect in marriages. In contrast, unemployment negatively impacts on partnership stability regardless of gender and partnership type.

Overall, the results highlight the heterogeneity of employment arrangements and their effects on workers' partnership and parenthood decisions, with the impact varying by the specific employment type, gender, partnership type, institutional context and the employment situation of the respective partner. However, in many cases, non-standard employment proves detrimental for workers' partnership and parenthood decisions. The results thus call for policy conclusions enhancing the compatibility between flexible labour markets and workers' family lives.

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