Cohabitation in the Philippines: Attitudes and Behaviors among Young Women and Men

By Williams, Lindy; Kabamalan, Midea et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Cohabitation in the Philippines: Attitudes and Behaviors among Young Women and Men


Williams, Lindy, Kabamalan, Midea, Ogena, Nimfa, Journal of Marriage and Family


We examine data from a national survey of 15 - 27 year olds in the Philippines to assess attitudes toward marriage and cohabitation, and we analyze the marital and nonmarital union experiences of 25 - 27 year olds. We find that attitudes toward cohabitation remain quite conservative among young Filipinos, although men view cohabitation more favorably than do women. We also find that men's socioeconomic status affects their ability to enter unions, particularly marriage, whereas women's union formation patterns are influenced by the family in which they grew up, their participation in religious services, and to some degree by their place of residence. Both men and women who hold more liberal attitudes on a range of issues are more likely to have cohabited than are individuals who do not share those views. For now, however, we do not expect cohabitation to become a widespread substitute for marriage in the Philippines.

Key Words: Asian/Pacific Islander families, cohabitation, coresidence, family, marriage, youth/emergent adulthood.

Declines in marriage and fertility have been among the few broadly generalizeable patterns in family change recently identified by Adams (2004) and others. Such general patterns, however, mask substantial variation between subgroups within and between countries (Heuveline & Timberlake, 2004). In Southeast Asia, for example, a retreat from marriage has been observed in a number of contexts (Jones, 1997, 2005; Leete, 1994), but this retreat is not uniform and varies considerably within the region. In this article, we examine data on formal and informal unions in the Philippines, the only predominandy Catholic country in Southeast Asia. We assess current attitudes toward marriage and cohabitation, and roles within unions among teens and young adults throughout the Philippines, and we analyze behaviors among the latter. We examine survey data from a national sample of 15 - 27 year olds to identify current attitudes on a range of topics, and we analyze young adults' experiences with formal and informal unions.

A Global Shift Toward Cohabitation?

Early marriage and childbearing are less regular occurrences in much of the world than they once were, particularly among educated and urban populations (Jones, 2004; Rele & Alam, 1993). What this implies for relationships in the period of time before marriage is not yet certain, however. Will cohabitation become increasingly common, and if so, will it be largely a stage on the path to marriage, or perhaps an alternative to marriage? Numerous authors have discussed possible stages of a cohabitation transition in other contexts. The stages identified vary but essentially cohabitation may be seen as (a) a deviant or at best avant-garde behavior, (b) a time during which a partnership can be tested on the way to marriage, (c) a phase during which cohabitation becomes a viable alternative to marriage, or (d) a time at which marriage and cohabitation are seen as indistinguishable (Casper & Bianchi, 2002; Kieman, 2002; Mynarska, 2006; Prinz, 1995).

A number of theoretical perspectives have focused on the underpinnings of delayed, and often foregone, marriage. If, for example, cohabitation begins to replace marriage, at least in the short term, is that because of gains in women's economic independence, which makes marriage less necessary for them (Becker, 1991; Dixon, 1978; Jejeebhoy, 1995)? Is it because uncertain economic circumstances force men (and possibly some women) to postpone or forego marriage (Goldstein & Kenney, 2001; Oppenheimer, 1994, 1997; Sweeney, 2002)? Is it because compositional shifts in the population make it more difficult for some people to find suitable marriage partners, and thus more inclined to test out marriage with a less desirable partner? Or might a rise in individualism and secularization contribute to a shift in norms (Lesthaeghe, 1998) characterized by an increasing tolerance for cohabitation and nonmarriage?

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