Academic journal article Demographic Research

Is Poland Really 'Immune' to the Spread of Cohabitation?

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Is Poland Really 'Immune' to the Spread of Cohabitation?

Article excerpt


Various data have constantly pointed out a low incidence of non-marital unions in Poland (at 1.4-4.9% among all unions). In this paper we demonstrate that these data, coming exclusively from cross-sectional surveys, clearly underestimate the scale of the phenomenon. By exploiting data on partnership histories we show that young Poles have increasingly opted for cohabitation. Consequently, in the years 2004-2006, entries to cohabitation constituted about one third of all first union entries. Consensual unions have traditionally been seen as being more widespread among the lower social strata, but a clear increase in cohabitation has also been recently observed among groups with higher levels of educational attainment. Although the estimates of cohabitation incidence are far below those observed in Northern and Western Europe, our study suggests that Poland is not as 'immune' to the spread of consensual unions as it is commonly believed.

1. Introduction

The literature claims that patterns of family formation in Poland are relatively traditional (Sobotka 2008, Sobotka and Toulemon 2008). Indeed, marriages in Poland are still contracted at relatively young ages, the incidence of divorce is low and out-ofwedlock births remain relatively uncommon (Hantrais 2005, Kotowska et al. 2008), despite observed trends toward delayed and deinstitutionalised family formation. Poles are strongly attached to the ideal form of a marital union with children (Pongracz and Spéder 2008), and express the most strongly negative attitudes towards changes in family formation patterns in the CEE (Stankuniene and Maslauskaite 2008).

Consistent with this view that traditional ideals about patterns of family formation persist in Poland, various data sources have constantly shown a low incidence of nonmarital cohabitation for that country; according to the National Population Census informal unions made up a mere 1.3% of all unions in 1988, 1.7% in 1995 and 2.2% in 2002 (Slany 2002, Fihel 2005). The Population Policy Acceptance Study as of 2001 gives an estimate of 1.4% (Kotowska et al. 2003) and the European Social Survey (2006) yields a value of 4.5%2. Half of the consensual unions are formed by never married (CSO 2003) while the proportions of cohabitants among young persons (aged 29 or less) are only slightly higher3 and fall well below what is found for many Northern and Western European countries (excluding the Mediterranean countries) (Andersson and Philipov 2002). In these parts of Europe cohabitation had already outdistanced direct marriage as the normative choice for a first union by the late 1980s. Similar finding has been established recently for Bulgaria, Russia and Hungary (Hoem et al. forthcoming) as well as for the Czech Republic (Sobotka et al. 2008).

The focus of this paper is on first unions in Poland with a special emphasis on nonmarital cohabitation. We demonstrate that the cross-sectional data used so far for assessing the incidence of consensual unions in Poland clearly underestimate the scale of this phenomenon. Taking advantage of retrospective data collected in 2006, covering women's full partnership histories, we show that young Polish women increasingly choose to cohabit before entering a marriage. Although consensual unions in Poland are still relatively rare by European standards, it is evident from our analysis that cohabitation has been spreading recently across all social strata.

2. Formation of non-marital unions in Europe: a brief overview of the developments

Informal unions are not a new phenomenon in post World War II Europe. Before the 1970s, however, they were largely statistically invisible. They were practised in some marginal sections of the society, i.e. among the poor who could not afford the marriage ceremony (Trost 1978, Villeneuve-Gokalp 1991), the separated who were legally not entitled to remarry (Haskey 2001), or surviving spouses who did not want to lose their pensions (Nazio and Blossfeld 2003). …

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