Centre for Advanced Study

at the Norwegian Academy of Science and Letters

Changing Family Patterns in Norway and other Industrialized Countries: Determinants, Consequences and Projected Trends


Former 2006/2007 Social Sciences - Law


Industrialized countries have seen very marked changes in their family patterns during the last few decades. The development has been driven by, and may further stimulate, societal changes that most people welcome, such as improvements in economic opportunities and growth in individual freedom for both men and women. However, it is also possible that there are some negative side effects. The intention of this project is to address various family issues that are relevant for Norway as well as other industrialized countries. These two sub-projects will draw on the exceptionally rich Norwegian register data, which will be analysed by means of modern multi-process and multi-level statistical techniques. Survey data will also be employed. In addition, survey and register data from other countries will be used in order to place the development in Norway within an international perspective. The Nordic countries have to some extent been forerunners in the family development, especially with respect to the growth in consensual unions and out-of-wedlock fertility. Therefore, an improved understanding of contemporary behaviour in those societies should attract wide interest. In addition, such insight will contribute to the general knowledge of fertility and family processes. Knowledge of determinants and consequences of family changes will be particularly useful for policy and planning purposes if there are also good tools for projection of trends into the future. The objective of the third sub-project is to improve the models used to project family behaviour. Special emphasis will be placed on the construction of stochastic projection models that can include family characteristics. The existing versions only include age and sex. Special problems arise in such projections because they involve couples, not only individuals.

End Report

Norway and other industrialized countries have experienced massive changes in family behaviour over the last few decades: the age at marriage has increased, a larger proportion has remained unmarried, informal cohabitation has become more common, and rates of union disruption have escalated. At the same time, women got fewer children, and those who became mothers did so later in life. These changes are, of course, closely linked to each other. For example, people who do not live in a stable relationship usually do not want children, and conversely, the childless may see little need to formalize a consensual union and they may find it easier to dissolve a relationship.

The intention of the project was to learn more about the reasons for and consequences of these changes in family changes, with special emphasis on the Norwegian setting. The drift away from the formal marriage has been particularly pronounced in Norway and other Nordic countries. Yet, fertility is relatively high. This situation makes Norway very interesting from an international perspective. In addition, the country has quite unique register data that allow detailed exploration of demographic behaviour. However, it would obviously also be important to contrast the development in Norway with that seen in other industrialized countries.

Another goal of the project was to develop better tools for analysing and forecasting future family patterns.

More work was done on fertility, and less on other family changes, than originally intended. This was because the register data on cohabitation have more limitations than was assumed when the proposal to CAS was written, and because an attempt to get funding from the Norwegian Research Council for a special survey among cohabitants failed (in spite of extremely positive reviewer reports). In addition, the interests among some of the project participants had drifted more towards fertility.

Most of the work was based on Norwegian register data. Participants from other countries were very enthusiastic about the potentials of those data and wanted to use them rather than data from their own country (or other countries). Thus, less comparative work was done than originally planned, but we have learned more about Norway, and when the publications from the project appear, several researchers in this field may become aware of the potentials of the data, which may trigger further initiatives to analyse Norwegian family behaviour.

The methodological part of the project proceeded as planned. A method for stochastic family forecasts was developed, and as part of that, methodological papers on marriage markets and the two-sex problem were also written.

The researchers at CAS have concrete plans about further co-operation. For example, Alho and Keilman will continue their work together on stochastic forecasting, and Kravdal will do more work with Rindfuss (and others in North Carolina) on fertility and with Emily Grundy on the link between mortality and fertility. In addition, co-operation with other British participants is very likely (Aassve, Sigle-Rushton, Steele), and Kravdal and H.-P. Kohler plan to use information (from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health) about di-zygotic twins to identify various effects in models for fertility and family behaviour.

To facilitate such co-operation and increase the chance of a successful completion of the projects started at CAS, all participants – as well as the discussants in the 2007 workshop - will be invited to a workshop in the spring 2008.


  • Aassve, Arnstein
    Dr. University of Essex 2006/2007
  • Alho, Juha
    Professor University of Joensuu 2006/2007
  • Bull, Hans Henrik
    Advisor Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development (KRD) 2006/2007
  • Grundy, Emily Marjatta Dorothea
    Professor London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine 2006/2007
  • Kohler, Hans-Peter
    Professor University of Pennsylvania 2006/2007
  • Kohler, Iliana Vassileva
    Research Fellow University of Pennsylvania 2006/2007
  • Lyngstad, Torkild Hovde
    - Statistics Norway 2006/2007
  • Mamelund, Svenn-Erik
    Professor Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) 2006/2007, 2022/2023
  • Murphy, Michael Joseph
    Professor London School of Economics 2006/2007
  • Reneflot, Anne
    Cand. Polit University of Oslo (UiO) 2006/2007
  • Rindfuss, Ronald Richard
    Professor University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill 2006/2007
  • Sigle-Rushton, Wendy Kay
    Dr. London School of Economics 2006/2007
  • Skirbekk, Vegard Fykse
    Dr. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) 2006/2007
  • Steele, Fiona Alison
    Dr. University of Bristol 2006/2007
  • Toulemon, Laurent
    Senior Researcher Institut National d’Etudes Démographiques (INED) 2006/2007
  • Valkonen, Yrsö Tapani
    Professor University of Helsinki 2006/2007

Previous events

Group leader

  • Nico Willem Keilman

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2006/2007
  • Øystein Kravdal

    Title Professor Institution University of Oslo (UiO) Year at CAS 2006/2007