Cohabitation and Marriage in Canada: The Geography, Law and Politics of Competing Views on Gender Equality

Benoît Laplante, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS)
Ana Laura Fostik, Institut National de la Recherche Scientifique (INRS)

Cohabitation was uncommon in Canada until the 1980s. In 2006, the proportion of women cohabiting among women aged 15-49 living in a conjugal union was about 20% in the English-speaking provinces, but close to 49% in Quebec, the French-speaking province. We use data from census and two surveys to explore the individual factors that may explain this difference. Analyses lead to conclude that the differences arise from the institutional settings rather than being related to individual characteristics. Quebec law uses unmarried cohabitation and marriage to accommodate two competing views of gender equality—one that rests on the assumption that spouses should be as economically independent as possible during and after marriage, while the other contends that equality implies dependence even after separation or divorce—whereas in the rest of Canada, law implements only the second one, more in marriage, but also in unmarried cohabitation.

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Presented in Session 230: Marriage and Family in a Legal Context