Cohabitation after Marital Disruption in Canada

By Wu, Zheng; Balakrishnan, T. R. | Journal of Marriage and Family, August 1994 | Go to article overview
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Cohabitation after Marital Disruption in Canada


Wu, Zheng, Balakrishnan, T. R., Journal of Marriage and Family


Using recent Canadian nation data, this study examines the cohabitational experience of 930 women and 650 men after they terminated a first marriage in the context of a marital search model. Our results suggest an increasing trend of postmarital cohabitation for recent cohorts. The hazard rate of postmarital cohabitation varies, depending particularly on time since marital disruption, age Qt marital disruption, and year of marital dissolution. The analysis shows no significant sex differences in the rate of postmarital cohabitation. The implications for these results are discussed.

During the last 3 decades, one of the most profound social changes in Canada, as in other Western countries, has been in family formation and dissolution. Marriage rates have been declining, and rates of cohabitation have been soaring (Bumpass, 1990; Dumas & Peron, 1992; Espenshade, 1985). Now 4 out of 10 recent marriages in Canada (Dumas & Peron, 1992), and 6 out of 10 in the United States (Castro Martin & Bumpass, 1989), are expected to end in divorce. It is no wonder that D. J. van de Kaa (1987) has called these a part of a "second demographic transition," and Larry Bumpass' presidential address to the Population Association of America was entitled "What's Happening to the Family?" (Bumpass, 1990).

As divorce has become commonplace, so has remarriage. Social scientists cite the prevalence of remarriage as evidence that people are not abandoning the institution of marriage. The high rates of divorce by and large reflect an increasing intolerance of particular marriages that are unhappy, rather than growing disillusionment with marriage as a social institution (Bumpass, Sweet, & Castro Martin, 1990). In other words, marriage is not going out of style.

The rate of remarriage, however, has been declining in Canada in recent years: The projected likelihood of remarriage has dropped from 85% in 1971 to 76% in 1985 for men, and from 79% to 64% for women in the same period (Statistics Canada, 1988, p. 10). A similar drop has also occurred in the United States. Remarriage rates, for example, declined by about 40% for widows and by one-third for divorced women between 1965 and 1984 (Bumpass et al., 1990). A comparable decline has occurred in Western Europe as well (Blanc, 1987).

One explanation for the decline in remarriage suggests that this phenomenon has been largely a response to rising nonmarital cohabitation after divorce (Bumpass, Sweet, & Cherlin, 1991). The argument is that nonmarital cohabitation has increasingly become not just a courtship process leading to marriage, but a substitute for legal marriage (Axinn & Thornton, 1993; Rindfuss & VandenHeuvel, 1990; Thornton, 1988). There is evidence that premarital cohabitation accounts for much of the decline in first marriage in recent years (e.g., Bumpass & Sweet, 1989; Bumpass et al., 1991; Burch & Madan, 1986).

The rapid increase in cohabitation after divorce is crucial to our understanding of changing remarriage patterns. Particularly important in this regard is the possibility that cohabitation weakens marriage as a social institution. If people who cohabit find that this arrangement offers an attractive and compatible lifestyle, their preference for married life is likely to decline (Axinn & Thornton, 1992). High rates of dissolution among cohabiting unions (Bumpass & Sweet, 1989; Burch & Madan, 1986) may also "reinforce the view that intimate relationships are fragile and temporary, thereby reducing the expectation that marriage is a lifetime relationship and commitment" (Axinn & Thornton, 1992, p. 361). Although we have seen an increasing amount of research on remarriage, we know little about nonmarital unions after marital dissolution. We know that premarital cohabitation is linked to high rates of divorce (Balakrishnan, Rao, Lapierre-Adamcyk, Krotki, 1987; Bennett, Blanc, & Bloom, 1988; Booth & Johnson, 1988; Burch & Madan, 1986; Schoen, 1992: Teachman & Polonko, 1990), less commitment to marriage (Wu & Balakrishnan, 1992), and approval of nonmarital cohabitation and divorce (Axinn & Thornton, 1992, 1993).

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