Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy

By Alan Booth; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview

7
The Impact of Cohabitation on the Family Life
Course in Contemporary North America:
Insights From Across the Border
Céline Le Bourdais and Heather Juby
Centre intenmiversitaire d'éturles démographiques
Institut national de lu recherche scientifque / Université de Montréal

J'ai I'honneur de ne pas te demander ta main, ne gravons pas nos noms au bas d'un parchemin.1 — Georges Brassens

Smock and Gupta's chapter (chap. 4, this volume), Cohahitatinrl in Contenzporay North America, compares and contrasts the evolution of cohabitation in the United States and Canada over the last decades of the 20th century. They discuss the role of cohabitation in family structure, cultural and social class variations, changes within cohabitation itself over the last decade, to what extent it resembles marriage, and how far it has become “institutionalized” in the two countries. Interesting and thought provoking, the chapter draws on an impressive body of research from both countries to explore their very different treatment of cohabitation. Particularly striking, from our perspective, is that the analysis of the central theme of this session—the implications of cohabitation for family structure—draws almost entirely on Canadian research. On retlection, it seemed to us that the absence of information on family structure stems from the evolution not so much of cohabitation itself in the United States as from the attitude toward it, both on the part of social institutions and of the research community. The very different presentation of otherwise rather similar trends is central to our argument and should become clearer in the course of the discussion.

The evolution of cohabitation in Quebec has more in common with the experience of certain European countries than it does with the Anglo-Saxon world, in the sense that cohabiting unions have become a socially acceptable alternative to marriage as the context for family life. By the early 1990s in Quebec, almost as many babies were born within a common-law union as in a marriage, and less than one quarter were born to couples who had not lived together before marrying (Marcil-Gratton, 1998). Quebec francophones were at the forefront of these changes, and by 1998, less than one quarter of babies were born within marriage in two of the most rural, francophone administrative regions of Quebec (Institut

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1
Why pledge our troth before a minister? Let's not be inscribed in a register! Translated from French (Dumans & Bélanger.

-107-

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