Union Formation Dynamics and Child Well-Being in Global Comparative Perspective

Ewa Batyra, Center for Demographic Studies
Luca Maria Pesando, McGill University
Andrés Castro, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research
Hans-Peter Kohler, University of Pennsylvania
Frank Furstenberg, University of Pennsylvania

Studies on global family changes have increased enormously, adopting both a context-specific and a cross-national perspective. While most of these studies are focused on the drivers of change in families, little comparative research has explored the health and well-being of children. This study fills this gap by exploring the intergenerational implications of union-formation and within-couple dynamics for children’s health and well-being across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), globally, regionally, and by the stage of fertility transition. We adopt a multi-axis conceptualization of children’s outcomes – health at birth, health in later life, and schooling – and leverage Demographic and Health Surveys across 75 LMICs. In settings where partnerships are characterized by more equal status between spouses their offspring fare better on several outcomes. These associations are particularly strong in mid- and high-fertility settings. Despite a series of regularities, our results also highlight a set of findings whereby, in a global context, the institution of marriage is not invariably a “protective” context for children, especially where fertility is comparatively lower. We document little cross-regional heterogeneity, primarily highlighting the centrality of demographic factors such as age vis-à-vis, for instance, region-specific characteristics that are more tied to the social functioning of specific societies.

Keywords: Family demography, Children and youth, Health and morbidity, Cross-country comparative analyses

See paper.

  Presented in Session 142. The Influence of Family Structure and Dynamics on Children's Health and Wellbeing