What Role Does Cohabitation Play in the Structure of the Western Family?

Jeffrey M. Timberlake, University of Chicago
Patrick Heuveline, University of Chicago

How much cross-national variation is there in the "meaning" of nonmarital cohabitation? Is cohabitation a prelude to or a substitute for marriage, or is it an alternative to being single? In this paper we use data from 17 Western nations to estimate exposure to and duration in cohabitation for both women and children. Results indicate that women are much more likely than children to be exposed to cohabitation, but that whereas incidence rates of cohabitation for children have increased over the past two decades in most countries, those for women have not. In contrast, total expected durations in cohabitation have increased for women but remained stable for children. Increases in the amount of time women spend in cohabitation have only been partially converted to children’s exposure to cohabitation, since a good deal of the increase in adult non-marital cohabitation has occurred when children are not present in the household.

Presented in Session 149: Nonmarital Fertility