Academic journal article Demographic Research

A Geography of Unmarried Cohabitation in the Americas

Academic journal article Demographic Research

A Geography of Unmarried Cohabitation in the Americas

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In the vast majority of countries in both North and South America, unmarried cohabitation has increased significantly in recent decades (Esteve et al. 2012; Binstock 2008; Cabella et al. 2004; Quilodrán 2010; Kennedy and Bumpass 2008; Le Bourdais and Lapierre-Adamcyk 2004) (see Appendix A). In many Latin American countries, cohabitation is hardly an anomaly, and has coexisted with marriage since colonial times (Castro-Martín 2002; Rodriguez Vignoli 2005). But there has also been a significant degree of variation in the prevalence of cohabitation. For example, in some areas of southern Latin America, the incidence of cohabitation has been low historically (e.g., southern Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay). By contrast, marriage was almost universal in the United States and Canada until at least the second half of the 20th century (Cherlin 2004; Le Bourdais and Lapierre-Adamcyk 2004). While cohabitation has become increasingly common in all layers of society and in all regions of Latin America, there are still marked social and geographic differences in cohabitation patterns. In countries with pre-existing traditions of cohabitation, the social and spatial gradients of the present patterns of cohabitation echo the geo-cultural legacies, and historical patterns of disadvantage are linked to traditional forms of cohabitation. By contrast, in countries with weak or non-existent traditions of cohabitation, social and regional heterogeneity in cohabitation patterns provide us with information about the social groups and regions that spearheaded the trend. While there is a sizeable amount of literature on the social gradient of cohabitation and its theoretical implications (Lesthaeghe and van de Kaa 1986; van de Kaa 1987; Perelli-Harris et al. 2010; Kenney and Goldstein 2012), scholars have devoted less attention to regional differences in cohabitation trends. Most of the existing research on cohabitation was carried out at a national level, and thus did not account for regional heterogeneity within countries (exceptions include Klüsener et al. 2013 and Coale and Watkins 1986).

To fill this gap in the research, we present in this article a detailed geography of unmarried cohabitation in the Americas. We have created a map of 39 countries extending from Canada to Argentina with more than 19,000 spatial units in which the percentages of cohabiting women among all women aged 25-29 who are in union are represented. By showing the spatial heterogeneity in cohabitation patterns, our goal is to reveal the marked regional differences that exist both across and within countries. Our map represents a first step toward explaining the roots and the causes of the recent cohabitation boom. Specifically, we examine the question of whether the current rise in cohabitation is basically an intensification of pre-existing traditions, and can therefore be seen as history's "revenge;" or whether it has different roots and follows new geographic patterns. In either case, a time-based perspective will be needed to answer this question. At this stage, our map primarily documents the dominant picture of cohabitation in the year 2000, but not the degree to which this picture has changed over time. Although we have not traced developments over time, we argue that historical pockets of cohabitation can still be identified by examining the current geography of cohabitation9.

2. Methodology

The results presented in this paper were obtained using census data from the 2000 census round. Assembling these data involved working with more than 20 million individual records of women aged 25-29 from 39 countries and 19,191 administrative units. For each unit, we have computed the percentage of 25-29-year-old women in a union who were cohabiting10 (See Appendix B). The method used to distinguish between cohabiting and married couples was similar across all of the countries except for the United States. In all of the Latin American countries and in Canada, the census includes an explicit category on cohabitation within the marital or relationship status questions. …

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