Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Rise of Cohabitation in Quebec: Power of Religion and Power over Religion

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Sociology

The Rise of Cohabitation in Quebec: Power of Religion and Power over Religion

Article excerpt

Abstract: The author develops the hypothesis that the rise of cohabitation in Quebec can be explained by the fact that almost all of its French speaking population was Catholic, and that the Church's refusal to change its doctrine on marriage and sexuality, and to allow laity to play a decisional role in the definition of doctrine, provided Quebec Catholics with the motive to abandon the traditional Christian norms in these matters; the local Catholic authorities' withdrawal from the institutions that framed people's lives 'from cradle to grave" made it possible to actually abandon these norms. This case study allows the author to argue that the speed with which each society proceeds along the path should be studied by analyzing the political, legal, and institutional contexts within which such changes of the second demographic transition occur in each society.

Resume: L'auteur developpe l'hypothese selon laquelle la montee de la cohabitation au Quebec peut s'expliquer par le fait que la plus grande partie de sa population francophone est de tradition catholique et que l'Eglise de la fin des annees 1960, en refusant de changer sa doctrine sur la mariage et la sexualite et en refusant egalement aux laics tout pouvoir sur la doctrine morale, a donne, aux catholiques du Quebec, de bonnes raisons d'abandonner les normes chretiennes traditionnelles en cette matiere. Le fair que l'Eglise, a la meme epoque, se soit retiree des institutions qui encadraient la plus grande partie de la vie des Quebecois a donne a ceux-ci l'occasion de le faire sans subir de consequences facheuses. L'auteur profite de l'etude de ce cas pour soutenir que l'etude du rythme auquel chaque societe progresse sur la voie de la deuxieme transition demographique ne peut etre faite sans tenir compte des institutions et des lois de chacune.


Comparative studies of European countries show important differences in the prevalence of cohabitation. According to Kiernan's (2000; 2002) analyses of data from the European Commission for 1996, cohabitation was the living arrangement for between 20% and 35% of women, aged 25 to 29 years, in Norway, Sweden, Finland and France, between 10% and 20% in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain, between 5% and 10% in West Germany, East Germany and Austria, and less than 5% in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy. Strong differences also exist within Canada: in 1996, 24.1% of couples residing in Quebec were cohabiting compared with only 10.0% in the rest of Canada.

From the evolution of cohabitation in Sweden, where it developed as a widespread phenomenon earlier than in other countries, several researchers have hypothesized that some Western societies are going through a transition in the way couples are formed. This transition occurs in several stages, in the first of which cohabitation is limited to a small group of deviant or "avantgarde" people and, in the last, where marriage and cohabitation become indistinguishable (Hoem and Hoem, 1988; Prinz, 1995; Kiernan, 2002). From a broader perspective, this shift from marriage to cohabitation is viewed as part of a more general phenomenon, the second demographic transition (van de Kaa, 1987).

However interesting, such a generalization falls short of explaining why this transition starts earlier or later in different countries or societies, why its pace varies, and why some countries, like Italy, seem immune to it. More specifically, it does not explain why Quebec lagged behind the rest of Canada on this path until roughly the end of the 1960s, and then became a forerunner (Le Bourdais and Marcil-Gratton, 1996).

In their study of the early life transitions of Canadian women, Ravanera, Rajulton and Burch (1998) interpreted Quebec women's atypical behaviour as "a distinctive mixture of Gallic sophistication and modernity with lingering traces of a very conservative brand of Catholicism," which alludes to some form of normative distinctiveness, but hardly qualifies as a real explanation. …

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