Latent class models for cross-national comparisons: the association between individual and national-level fertility and partnership characteristics

Mark Lyons-Amos


Multilevel modelling techniques such as random models or fixed effect are increasingly used in social sciences and demography to both account for clustering within higher level aggregations and evaluate the interaction between individual and contextual information. While this is justifiable in some studies, the extension of multilevel models to national level analysis — and particularly cross-national comparative analysis — is problematic and can hamper the understanding of the interplay between individual and country level characteristics. This paper proposes an alternative approach, which allocates countries to classes based on economic, labour market and policy characteristics. Classes influence the profiles of three key demographic behaviours at a sub-national level: marriage, cohabitation and first birth timing. Woman level data are drawn from a subset of the Harmonized Histories dataset, and national level information from the GGP contextual database. In this example, three country classes are extracted reflecting two Western patterns and an Eastern pattern, divided approximately along the Hajnal line. While Western countries tend to exhibit higher levels of family allowances albeit accounting for a lower share of spending which is associated with lower marriage and later fertility, Eastern countries generally show a higher share of spending but at lower absolute levels with lower cohabitation rates and early fertility.


multilevel models; latent class analysis; cross-national; marriage; cohabitation; fertility

Full Text:



Adserà A. (2004). Changing fertility rates in developed countries: the impact of labour market institutions. Journal of Population Economics, 17(1): 17–43.

Ahn N and Mira P. (2002). A note on the changing relationship between fertility and female employment rates in Latent class models for cross-national comparisons: the association between individual and national-level fertility and partnership characteristics 56 International Journal of Population Studies | 2016, Volume 2, Issue 2 developed countries. Journal of Population Economics, 15(4): 667–682.

Billingsley S and Farrini T. (2014). Family policy and fertility intentions in 21 European countries. Journal of Marriage and Family, 76(2): 428–445.

Browne W J. (2014). MCMC estimation in MLwiN (Version 2.13). Bristol: Centre for Multilevel Modelling, University of Bristol.

Blossfeld H P and Drobnic S. (2001). Careers of Couples in Contemporary Societies: From Male Breadwinner to Dual Earner Families. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Blossfeld H P. (2006). Chapter 15: Late careers in a globalizing world: a comparison of changes in twelve modern societies. In H P Blossfeld, S Buchholz, and D Hofacker (Eds.), Globalization, Uncertainty and Late Careers in Society (pp.353). London: Routledge.

Chesnais J C. (1996). Fertility, family, and social policy in contemporary Western Europe. Population and Development Review, 22(4): 729–739.

Dariotis J K, Pleck J H, Astone N M, et al. (2011). Pathways of early fatherhood, marriage, and employment: a latent class growth analysis. Demography, 48(2): 593–623.

Efron B and Morris C. (1973). Stein’s estimation rule and its competitors — an empirical Bayes approach. Journal of the American Statistical Association, 68(341), 117–130.

Elzinga C H and Liefbroer A C, 2007, De-standardization of family-life trajectories of young adults: a cross-national comparison using sequence analysis. European Journal of Population, 23(3): 225–250.

Esping-Andersen G. (1990). The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Esping-Andersen G. (1999). Social Foundations of Postindustrial Economies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hajnal J. (1965). European marriage pattern in historical perspective. In Glass D V and Eversley D E C (Eds.), Population in History (pp.101–143). London: Arnold.

Hox J, van de Schoot R, and Matthijsse S. (2012). How few countries will do? Comparative survey analysis from a Bayesian perspective. Survey Research Methods, 6(2): 87–93.

Kalwij A. (2010). The impact of family policy expenditure on fertility in Western Europe. Demography, 47(2): 503–519.

Kammer A, Niehues J, and Peichl A. (2012). Welfare regimes and welfare state outcomes in Europe. Journal of European Social Policy, 22(5): 455–471.

Korpi W. (2000). Faces of inequality: gender, class, and patterns of inequalities in different types of welfare states. Social Politics, 7(2): 127–191.

Korpi W, Ferrarini T, and Englund S. (2013). Women’s opportunities under different family policy constellations: gender, class and inequality tradeoffs in Western Countries re-examined. Social Politics, 20(1): 1–40.

Kühner S. (2007). Country-level comparisons of welfare state change measures: another facet of the dependent variable problem within the comparative analysis of the welfare state? Journal of European Social Policy, 17(1): 5–18.

Mason K O. (1998). Gender and demographic change: what do we know? In Jones G W, Douglas R M, Caldwell J C, et al. (Eds.), The Continuing Demographic Transition (pp.158–182). Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

McDonald P. (2000). Gender equity, social institutions and the future of fertility. Journal of Population Research, 17(1): 1–16. Mark Lyons-Amos International Journal of Population Studies | 2016, Volume 2, Issue 2 57

Mills M. (2010). Gender roles, gender (in)equality and fertility: an empirical test of five gender equity indices. Canadian Studies in Population, 37(3–4): 445–474.

Neels K, Theunynck Z, and Wood J. (2013). Economic recession and first births in Europe: recession-induced postponement and recuperation of fertility in 14 European countries between 1970 and 2000. International Journal of Public Health, 58(1): 43–55. Neyer G. (2003). Family policies and low fertility in Western Europe. Journal of Population and Social Security (Population), 1(Supplement): 46–93.

Perelli-Harris B and Lyons-Amos M. (2015). Changes in partnership patterns across the life course: an examination of 14 countries in Europe and the United States. Demographic Research, 33(6): 145–178.

Perelli-Harris B and Lyons-Amos M. (2016). Partnership patterns in the United States and across Europe: the role of education and country context. Social Forces, 95(1): 251–282.

Perelli-Harris B and Sánchez-Gassen N. (2012). How similar are cohabitation and marriage? Legal approaches to cohabitation across Western Europe. Population and Development Review, 38(3): 435–467.

Perelli-Harris B, Kreyenfeld M, and Kubisch K. (2010). Technical Manual for the Harmonized Histories Database. Rostock, MPIDR Working paper 2010-011.

Sobotka T. (2003). Re-emerging diversity: rapid fertility changes in Central and Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Communist regimes. Population-English Edition, 58(4–5): 451–486.

Stegmueller D. (2013). How many countries for multilevel modeling? A comparison of frequentist and Bayesian approaches. American Journal of Political Science, 57(3): 748–761.

(189 Abstract Views, 106 PDF Downloads)


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Copyright (c) 2016 Mark Lyons-Amos

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.