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Family Demography and Family Law

Benoît Laplante (Institut national de la recherche scientifique)
Laura Bernardi (University of Lausanne)
Minja Choe (East-west Center)
Céline Le Bourdais (McGill University)
T.V. Sekher (International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS))
Joice Vieira (Universidade Estadual de Campinas (UNICAMP))
Council Liaison 
IUSSP Secretariat 
Paul Monet (International Union for the Scientific Study of Population (IUSSP))
Terms of Reference: 

Over the last decades, family structure and family dynamics have undergone tremendous changes. In family demography, these changes are typically interpreted as the consequences of deep transformations in values, attitudes and norms. These are defined and measured at the level of the individual, typically using a questionnaire, and, when aggregated, they are usually interpreted either as characteristics of a populationfor instance in cross-national comparisonsor as characteristics of different groups within a country, say men and women, the less educated and the well-educated, and so on.


Although these approaches have proven fruitful, they leave aside the formal context within which actors must make the decisions and the choices that will lead to demographic events such as entering in a conjugal relationship, leaving one or having a child. Although these choices and decisions are without any doubt rooted in economic contexts, the individual’s values and attitudes, and conditioned by what he or she perceives as norms, the range of what is possible and the “cost” of any specific decision or choice is largely an institutional matter and is shaped by law.


The diffusion of unmarried cohabitation would probably not have occurred if the millennia-old distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children had not been abolished in many countries through a combination of legislative changes and court decisions. The postponement of fertility would not have occurred the way it did, if contraception and abortion had remained illegal. Divorce, separation and step-families would not be as common as they are today if most jurisdictions in the West had not, willingly or not, come to terms with unilateral divorce.


As the last example suggests, the relationship between the changes in the demography of the family and the changes in family law is not a simple matter of cause and effect. Changes in law occur as a consequence of changes in behaviour as much as changes in law may favour changes in behaviour. The purpose of the Panel would be to foster the study of the connection between changes in family law and changes in family structure and family dynamics while assuming as little as possible about the specifics of the connection.


Session on “Families, the Law, and Public Policy” at the PAA 2018 Annual Meeting

Denver (Colorado), United States, 26-28 April 2018

The Panel also plans to organize two seminars and the publication of a selection of papers presented in these seminars, preferably in an open-access book or journal available to all interested potential readers regardless of their institutional affiliation and means.

The Panel will also promote the organisation of sessions on the connection between family demography and family law in population conferences, notably the IUSSP 2021 International Population Conference but also, and before that, the annual or biannual meetings of large-scale national or international population associations such as the Population Association of America (PAA), the European Association for Population Studies (EAPS), the Asociación Latinoamericana de Población (ALAP) and the Association internationale des démographes de langue française (AIDELF).


The panel will also seek to organise at least one joint activity with a scientific legal association such as the International Society of Family Law (ISFL). The ISFL has already shown interest in collaboration with sociologists and demographers in its regular meetings.