The Role of Family Law in Shaping Variation in Family Behavior: Insights from the Swiss-French Border Region around Geneva

Sebastian Kluesener , Federal Institute for Population Research
Jonathan Zufferey, Université de Genève

It is usually difficult to separate the impact of family legislation from other factors that affect family formation behavior. This paper deals with a quasi-natural experiment setting that potentially allows to demonstrate that family legislation can indeed influence the decision whether to have children within or outside marriage. We look at the Swiss-French border region around the Swiss city of Geneva. This area is not only economically, but also linguistically highly integrated as French is the dominant language on both sides of the border. Nevertheless, the border line between Switzerland and France in this region has since the 1970s emerged as a clear non-marital fertility divide. In the 1990s, the non-marital birth ratio in the French border regions was with 40% four times higher than in the Swiss canton of Geneva. It has been argued that the conservative Swiss family law plays an important role for understanding this divide, as it puts particularly Swiss fathers of children born outside marriage at a legal disadvantage. We use individual-level register data for the Swiss canton of Geneva to study family formation shifts after a recent Swiss family law reform that strengthened the rights of such fathers. Our analysis shows that after the reform particularly among couples with a Swiss father the likelihood of a first birth outside marriage increased. This supports the view that family legislation can indeed influence family formation behavior and can contribute to our understanding why Switzerland is lagging behind in the recent surge of non-marital fertility in Europe.

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 Presented in Session 49. Flash Session Policy and Practice