• Alaka BasuAlaka Basu
      Alaka M. Basu is Professor, Development Sociology, Cornell University, and a member of the Guttmacher-Lancet Commission on Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Health
      Alessandro RosinaAlessandro Rosina
      Professor of Demography and Director, Center for Applied Statistics in Business and Economics, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore
      Andrea BrandoliniAndrea Brandolini
      Head of Statistical Analysis Directorate, Bank of Italy
      Bruno MasquelierBruno Masquelier
      Professor of Demography, University of Louvain, Belgium
      Cheikh MbackéCheikh Mbacké
      Associate Professor, Sociology department, Laval University
      Cinzia ContiCinzia Conti
      Researcher at Istat, Head of Unit on Foreign Presence and Social Dynamics
      Corrado BonifaziCorrado Bonifazi
      Director of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, National Research Council, Rome Italy
      Ernestina CoastErnestina Coast
      Associate Professor of Population Studies, London School of Economics
      Wang FengFeng Wang
      Professor of Sociology at the University of California, Irvine, USA, and Professor at Fudan University, Shanghai, China fwang(at)
      Francesco BillariFrancesco Billari
      Professor of Sociology and Demography, Department of Social and Political Sciences, Bocconi University. • Personal webpage • francesco.billari(at)
      Gilles PisonGilles Pison
      Professor at Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle and Director of Research at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) (Paris)
      Gustavo De SantisGustavo De Santis
      Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Jacques VallinJacques Vallin
      Emeritus Research Director at INED, Paris; Honorary President of IUSSP
      John KnodelJohn Knodel
      Research Professor Emeritus, Population Studies Center, Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan (USA) and International staff, College of Populations Studies, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand)
      Letizia MencariniLetizia Mencarini
      Associate professor of Demography, Bocconi University - Dondena Centre for Research on Social Dynamics and Public Policy & Collegio Carlo Alberto; P.I. ERC P.I. ERC project n. 313617 (2013-2018) SWELLFER
      Letizia TanturriLetizia Tanturri
      Associate Professor of Demography - Department of Statistical Sciences - University of Padova • Personal webpage ml.tanturri(at)
      Massimo livi BacciMassimo livi Bacci
      Emeritus Professor of Demography, University of Florence, Italy
      Monica Das GuptaMonica Das Gupta
      Research Professor of Sociology, University of Maryland, USA
      Paula Miranda-RibeiroPaula Miranda-Ribeiro
      Professor, Demography Department and Cedeplar, Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais, Brazil.
      Peter McDonaldPeter McDonald
      Professor of Demography in the Australian National University. Honorary President of IUSSP and winner of the Irene B. Taeuber Award
      Roberto ImpicciatoreRoberto Impicciatore
      Università di Bologna.
      Salvatore StrozzaSalvatore Strozza
      Professor of Demography, University Federico II, Naples (Italy)
      Stefano MolinaStefano Molina
      Senior Program Officer, Giovanni Agnelli Foundation, Italy
      our authors
    • N-IUSSP is a new IUSSP news magazine, which will disseminate scientific findings from demographic research carried out all over the world. The practical implications of current trends, the risks and potentialities of emerging situations, the pros and cons of specific laws are discussed in rigorous but plain language.

      Everybody is free to reproduce our articles, for free, provided the original source is cited.

      You are invited to contribute to this new publication: please check our guidelines and submit your 1000 word contribution to

Marriage then the baby carriage?
Mariage et fécondité dans les pays développés d’aujourd’hui

Jennifer A. Holland

The mid-20th-century was a Golden Age of marriage in Europe and the United States. People married early, usually in their early-to-mid-20s, and often, with over 90% of people marrying at least once in most countries (Sobotka & Toulemon 2008). Fast forward to the early 21st century: fewer people marry and those who do wait longer, pursuing education and careers, finding love and starting families, all outside of marriage. Marriage was once the starting point for family life. Where does marriage fit into the family lives of couples across Europe and the United States today?

Using survey data covering 17 European countries and the United States harmonized by the Nonmarital Childbearing Network and available from the Generations and Gender Program, I traced the family lives of over 58,000 women born between 1950 and 1977 (Holland 2017). While fewer marry, the context of marriage is more diverse within and across countries. Using a typology organized around the timing of marriage relative to co-residence and childbearing (Holland 2013; 2017), I found evidence of continuity and change.

For most, marriage continues to happen prior to having children

In all countries, most first marriages are Family Forming marriages, occurring before a couple has children. But more often, couples live together before getting married. Unsurprisingly, this shift from Direct to Post-Cohabitation Family Forming marriage is largest in countries where non-marital cohabitation is also increasing (Hiekel, Liefbroer, & Poortman 2014).

A growing proportion of marriages in Central and Eastern Europe and the United States occur after a first child is conceived but before the birth. These Conception-Related Legitimizing marriages are also sometimes called ‘shotgun marriage’ or ‘bridal pregnancies’. Couples expecting a child might choose to marry if it provides better legal protection for the child and the parents, or if there are strong norms against non-marital childbearing. Alternatively, marriage and childbearing intentions may be so closely linked that the two occur together. In Western European countries and Norway, smaller shares of first marriages are Conception-Related Legitimizing. Here norms against non-marital childbearing may be weakening, as more births occur to cohabiting parents (Perelli-Harris et al 2012).

In the future, more wedding portraits may include the bride, groom and their children

First marriages occurring after a first birth were rare in most countries, but this is changing in Northern Europe, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and the United States. If marriage is not a ‘prerequisite’ for starting a family, how closely are marriage and childbearing linked? For some, marriage follows the birth very closely, within 12 months. These might also be a type of (Post-Birth) Legitimizing marriage. Others may choose a Reinforcing marriage, solidifying their relationships sometime after a first birth, but before having more children. For others still, marriage may be the Capstone of family life—a celebration of the couple’s achievements, including bearing and raising a family. As more couples from recent birth cohorts become parents, further growth in these types of marriage may emerge.


Hiekel, N., Liefbroer, A. C., & Poortman, A.-R. (2014). Understanding Diversity in the Meaning of Cohabitation Across Europe. European Journal of Population, 30(4), 391–410.

Holland, J.A. (2013). Love, marriage, then the baby carriage? Marriage timing and childbearing in Sweden. Demographic Research, 29(11), 275–306.

Holland, J.A. (2017). The timing of marriage vis-à-vis coresidence and childbearing in Europe and the United States. Demographic Research, 36(20), 609–626.

Perelli-Harris, B., Kreyenfeld, M., Sigle-Rushton, W., Keizer, R., Lappegård, T., Jasilioniene, A., Berghammer, C. and Di Giulio, P. (2012). Changes in union status during the transition to parenthood in eleven European countries, 1970s to early 2000s. Population Studies, 1–16.

Sobotka, T., & Toulemon, L. (2008). Changing family and partnership behaviour: Common trends and persistent diversity across Europe. Demographic Research, 19(6), 85–138.



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