Academic journal article Demographic Research

Pathways to Marriage and Cohabitation in Central America

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Pathways to Marriage and Cohabitation in Central America

Article excerpt

(ProQuest: ... denotes formulae omitted.)

1. Introduction

In Latin America it is, and has been, common for couples to form non-marital cohabita- tions (informal unions) instead of formal marriages. The decades long US and European (relevant to some countries) trend of increasing prevalence of cohabitation relative to mar- riage has been interpreted as signaling a shift in societal norms with associated long-term and short-term impacts on childbearing and contraception, household income, and stabil- ity (see Lesthaeghe and van de Kaa 1986; Liefbroer 1991; Lesthaeghe 1995; Raley 2001; Liefbroer and Dourleijn 2006). Research has documented not only the trends, but also the life course processes leading to cohabitation or marriage, as well as the subsequent impact on life course processes following cohabitation or marriage. While there is now a broad and conclusive literature focused on US/ European populations, there is a dearth of research on Latin America, where cohabitation has much deeper history. De Vos (2000) suggests that inadequate nuptiality data and the perceived complexity of Latin American union behavior may explain the gap in research. Recent descriptive results suggest that Latin American cohabitation trends reflect underlying cultural or economic changes sim- ilar to those driving demographic change in Europe and the US (Esteve, Lesthaeghe, and Lopez-Gay 2012; Quilodrán 1999). The trends, however, provide only indirect evidence of the underlying union formation processes at work. Further investigation of the inter- action of life events, or pathways, that lead to the formation of marriage or cohabitation are needed to provide insight into the decision-making process or sequence of events that leads to the formation of a specific type of union.

While DeVos' (2000) comment about data limitations is true - there are no longitu- dinal data archives similar to those supporting US and European research - the structure of the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) and Reproductive Health Surveys (RHS) provides enough information on timing of key events to support an analysis of life course processes leading to cohabitation or marriage during the formative early adolescent (age 12) to young adult (age 24) period. In this study we focus on women from three Central American countries - Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua - that have recent DHS or RHS data. We focus on key pathways to union formation with a minimal specification that incorporates socio-economic proxies (education, rural, and ethnicity) and life events (first intercourse and pregnancy) that should be strongly related to union formation. We focus on two research questions: 1) Does age at first intercourse and pregnancy increase the risk of forming a cohabiting union and decrease the risk of formally marrying? and 2) Do the magnitude and timing of transitions to cohabitation and marriage differ systemat- ically in terms of geographic, ethnic, and socio-economic strata (particularly in terms of education)?

Our study expands the small body of research profiling Latin American union forma- tion leveraging new insights by using event-history analysis of retrospective DHS/RHS data. The results of our study also contribute to the discussion of contemporary adoles- cent pathways specifically filling an extant gap in scientific understanding of contempo- rary union formation in Central America.

2. Approach and context

Unlike other examinations of cohabitation versus marriage in Central and Latin America, we examine aspects of the life course processes during adolescence that lead from the never in union status to formation of either type of union. In the following sub-sections we briefly describe the life course framework and provide some country-relevant contextual information relating to the Central American adolescent life course.

2.1 Life course approach

The life course framework is rooted in the theory that the sequencing and timing of events is significant. …

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