Academic journal article Demographic Research

Not Truly Partnerless: Non-Residential Partnerships and Retreat from Marriage in Spain

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Not Truly Partnerless: Non-Residential Partnerships and Retreat from Marriage in Spain

Article excerpt


Nearly two-thirds of Spanish women aged 20-34 have not yet entered their first union. However, almost half of them have a stable partner living in a different household. Hence, the drop in marriage rates and low prevalence of cohabitation cannot be rightly interpreted as a decline in partnership formation, but rather as a postponement of co-residential unions. This article examines the prevalence and determinants of non-residential stable partnerships among women aged 20-34, in relation to cohabitation and marriage, using a multinomial logit model of current partnership type. The analysis is based on data from the 1999 Spanish Fertility Survey. We find that women's high educational attainment and their partner's work instability deter co-residential partnerships.

1. Introduction

In recent decades, Spain has witnessed significant changes in nuptiality patterns (Billari et al. 2002). A steady trend toward fewer and later marriages has been manifest since the early 1980s and in 2005 the mean age at first marriage was 29.4 for women and 31.5 for men, well above the EU-25 average. In an increasing number of societies, marriage has been gradually replaced by cohabitation as the initial stage of family formation, and marrying without prior cohabitation has become exceptional behavior in young adults' lives (Bumpass and Lu 2000, Kiernan 2002). Yet one of the major differences between Spain and other latest-late marriage societies is that the postponement of marriage has not been offset by a parallel increase in cohabitation. Whereas in Northern Europe first union formation occurs significantly earlier than reflected in marriage statistics, in Spain late union formation is the norm, not only due to the relatively low diffusion of cohabitation but also because the age pattern of entry into cohabitation is only slightly younger than that of entry into marriage (Castro Martín 1999). Consequently, the percentage of women aged 20-34 who have not yet entered their first union is among the highest in Europe: 62.2% according to the 2001 Census (Figure 1).

Although non-marital fertility is no longer marginal -the proportion of non-marital births increased from 11% in 1995 to 27% in 2005-, the late pattern of union formation is linked to a late pattern of childbearing (Spanish women have one of the latest ages at first birth in the world: 29.3) and lowest-low fertility. Other features that characterize the transition to adulthood in Spain are the late departure from the parental home, the low incidence of independent living before union formation and the high synchronization between leaving the parental household, union formation and first birth (Baizán et al. 2003).

Most studies on nuptiality patterns use a tripartite model of intimate relationships in which individuals are single, cohabiting or married, and social researchers tend to consider those who are not living with a partner as not coupled. However, the definition of singleness is problematic because of its conflation of partnership and co-residence (Roseneil 2006). Since not sharing the same living quarters does not mean not having a partner, the trend toward fewer and later marriages does not necessarily imply an increase in unpartnered persons. In fact, the postponement of union formation and the growing prevalence of singleness among young adults are actually intertwined with the increase in non-residential partnerships.

A number of different terms have been used to allude to non-cohabiting relationships, but the term which has gained increasing acceptance in the sociological and demographic literature is "living-apart-together" or "LAT" relationships (Levin and Trost 1999). Haskey (2005) defines them as relationships between partners who live at different addresses but who regard themselves as a couple and are recognized as such by friends and relatives. There is also the understanding that, as cohabitation, LAT relationships are monogamous in nature and imply higher commitment and stability than casual relationships. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.