Effects of Migration, Ethnicity, and Religiosity on Cohabitation

By Katz, Ruth | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 2001 | Go to article overview
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Effects of Migration, Ethnicity, and Religiosity on Cohabitation

Katz, Ruth, Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Ruth Katz (*)


Many Western countries face declining marriage rates associated with an increase in cohabitation. A larger proportion of men and women are living together either as a prelude to marriage, between marriages, or, more rarely, outside marriage permanently. In the past, the transition from family of origin to family of procreation was rich in ceremonies -- engagement, wedding and honeymoon, through which the participants attained new rights and obligations (Dumon, 1995). During the last three decades, however, the sharp transition from singlehood to marriage has broken down into a variety of informal arrangements, and not necessarily in the same order as in the past (e.g., having children first and getting married afterwards).

Cohabitation is perhaps the most frequent of these arrangements. Its innovative nature is reflected in such aspects as the variety of terms used to define this semi-institutionalized partnership and the tendency to retain the parental home as the formal address, while actually residing with a partner. One of the functions of cohabitation for young people is to establish their independence in the vital process of mate-selection and family formation. The legitimacy of various intimate life styles allows for differentiation in decision-making: to mate but not to procreate, or vice-versa; to enter into an informal partnership as an initiation stage preceding marriage; or to establish a permanent arrangement, replacing marriage. Marriage has, as a result, become a less definitive marker of other major transitions: having regular sexual relations, establishing living arrangements and parenting (Bumpass, 1990).

This proliferating lifestyle, however, is not evenly distributed in the population. Two major sets of variables affect the different rates of cohabitation -- relatively stable cultural background factors such as religiosity and ethnicity, and situational transitions such as migration, mobility, and other significant life events.

The aims of the present study are twofold: first, to explore the impact of three major social factors -- immigration, ethnicity and religiosity -- on cohabitation both on the behavioral and attitudinal levels. Second, to examine the linkages between attitudes toward cohabitation and reported cohabiting behavior. These issues, which have universal relevance, will be analyzed within the Israeli social context.


Four features of Israeli society seem to be relevant to the emergence of cohabitation. First, until recently, Israeli society was characterized by an almost universal norm of formal marriage. This was reflected in the country's relatively young marriage age and, consequently, a low ratio of single older adults. During the 1990s, however, a sharp decline in the propensity to marry was observed (DellaPergola, 1993). The percentage of singles in the 20-24 age group rose from 77% for men and 44% for women in the 1970s to 87% and 62%, respectively, in the 1990s. The 45-49 age group showed a significant increase in the percentage of single women (from 1.6% to 4.1%), during this period (Central Bureau of Statistics, 1999). These demographic trends are related to the growing tendency to cohabit.

A second salient feature of Israeli society is the advent of a large-scale wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s. The cultural context of the Former Soviet Union was more secular and less family-oriented than the Israeli one. The immigrant families have a low birth rate, a high divorce rate and a high percentage of cohabitation (Imbrogno and Imbrogno, 1986, 1989; Shlapentokh, 1991). Meaningful Jewish community life, religiously, culturally and organizationally, was prohibited during the entire period of Communist rule. Additionally, a large proportion of the immigrants lived in Russia's major cities (Moscow, St. Petersburg, etc.), that were more conductive to liberal lifestyles (Leshem and Sicron, 1998; Lissak and Leshem, 1995).

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