Is the COVID-19 pandemic a driver of partnership dissolution? A comparative study of Austria and France

Isabella Buber-Ennser , Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Caroline Berghammer, University of Vienna and Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, OeAW, Univ. Vienna)
Maria Winkler-Dworak , Vienna Institute of Demography

The measures taken to stop the spread of the Corona virus had a drastic impact on all areas of life. They also affected one of the closest and most important relationships: the one to the partner. Previous research showed both positive and negative effects on partnership quality during the pandemic. Which experience dominated, depended on the presence of different kinds of stressors, e.g. work-family conflict or employment uncertainty. Against this background, we study partnership dissolution over the course of the pandemic starting in spring 2020 – compared to 2018 and 2019 – in Austria and France. We employ the European labour force surveys – large, representative, high-quality surveys – and include couples age 20 to 54. The data are analysed using logistic regression models. Respondents participate in five (Austria) or six (France) consecutive quarters which allows us to study union dissolutions between waves. We focus on the family and employment situation. First results show that, despite an increase in partnership conflicts in many families, partnership dissolution has declined in 2020. The decline was strongest among couples without children in the household – a group that generally has higher dissolution rates. In other words, there was convergence in dissolution rates between couples with and without children, suggesting high strains for parents. We also find increased dissolution rates in 2020 among unmarried couples and couples with older children. Employment uncertainty – men’s short-time employment (France) and both not working (Austria) – also seems to have heightened the risk of partnership dissolution.

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 Presented in Session 28. Flash Session: Covid and the Family