How Does Cohabitation Fit into the Family Life Course? Norms and Ideals in Europe

Jennifer A. Holland, Center for Population Change, University of Southampton
Helga A. G. de Valk, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI) and Vrije Universiteit Brussel

Whether life courses are shaped by social norms or are primarily governed by individual preferences is a matter of debate. In this paper we investigate whether non-marital cohabitation norms structure individuals’ understanding of how cohabitation fits into the ideal family life course. Using data from the European Social Survey (Round 3, 2006/07), we build a typology cohabitation across 23 survey countries. Then, using multi-level modeling techniques, we explore how normative contexts may condition an individual’s propensity to offer non-numeric responses to a question about the ideal age for cohabitation (i.e. ‘there is no ideal age’ or ‘never’ versus a numeric response), actual ideal ages for cohabitation, and the relative ideal timing of marriage and cohabitation. Results highlight the importance of gender, education and normative ‘permissiveness’ in conditioning perceptions of the ideal timing of cohabitation. Additionally, results suggest the emergence of positive norms for cohabitation within some contexts.

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Presented in Session 48: Families and Households in Comparative and Historical Perspective