Academic journal article Population

Living Together Apart in France and the United States

Academic journal article Population

Living Together Apart in France and the United States

Article excerpt

In the midst of the 2008 banking crisis and its ripple effect on the world economy, a phenomenon barely visible until then was highlighted by the media on both sides of the Atlantic: "The housing crisis is even forcing couples who want to separate into involuntary cohabitation. (...) The fear of not finding a new place to live is leading to untenable situations. Many couples are sharing the same home without actually 'being together'",(2) wrote Michaël Hadjenberg in an article on the Mediapart website published in May 2008. In December of the same year, an article in the Seattle Times entitled "Couples staying together because of poor economy",(3) described the same phenomenon in the United States.

Do these cases of "forced cohabitation" represent a whole new set of family situations which deserve to be identified and qualified as such? And if so, what should they be called: involuntary cohabitation? cohabiting separation? In any event, these situations bear witness to the constraints and fears associated with contemporary conjugal trajectories. The current economic and housing crisis may be aggravating this phenomenon, and French journalists and lawyers are detecting the first signs of such a trend.

In the early 1990s, several sociological studies revealed the existence of new conjugal situations which we, along with others, termed "living apart together" (LAT) (Le Gall and Martin, 1988; Martin, 1994; Levin and Trost, 1999; Levin, 2004). Since then, the expression has been used to describe couples who, voluntarily or otherwise, on a temporary or permanent basis, and for a variety of reasons, do not live together and maintain two separate homes (Régnier-Loilier et al., 2009). One reason for these conjugal arrangements is linked to the way young couples begin their relationships, or to their working careers, which may oblige them to live in two different cities, for example. Another reason may be the desire to avoid exposing the children of a previous union to the presence of a new partner. By living in separate homes, time spent as a couple can be separated from family time, and the partners can choose the right moment to reform a new family, sometimes after a long waiting period (Martin, 2001). Such arrangements also exist among older adults who, after their children have lefthome, sometimes choose to live separately from their partner (Caradec, 1996a). In all cases, they must have the financial means to maintain two separate homes. These situations also raise questions about the "objective" indicators of conjugal life. Perhaps it is individuals themselves who should define whether or not they are in a conjugal relationship.

Analysis of LAT raises questions similar to those we aim to discuss here. For example, the viewpoints of the persons concerned must be taken into account, since certain romantic and sexual relationships (teenage romances for example) are not considered by the protagonists as conjugal relationships. In all logic, the first requirement of an LAT relationship is that the persons concerned should see themselves as a couple, and even be perceived as a couple by others.(4) Another question concerns the significance of these practices, and the profiles of the persons concerned. Some authors, such as Irene Levin or Sasha Roseneil, see LAT relationships as a "new family form", chosen by partners who wish to enjoy the intimacy of a relationship while maintaining their independence and their social networks by living apart (a both/and solution, Levin, 2004), or who give priority to friendships over romantic and sexual relationships (Roseneil, 2006). Levin thus posits that these behaviours are especially prevalent in societies where cohabitation is a widely accepted institution, as is the case in Scandinavian countries. Other scholars tend to focus on the extreme heterogeneity of so-called LAT couples, contrasting voluntary (or deliberate) separation with involuntary separation linked to a range of constraints, primarily those of the labour market (such as commuter marriages, Haskey and Lewis, 2006). …

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