Academic journal article Demographic Research

Gender and Time Allocation of Cohabiting and Married Women and Men in France, Italy, and the United States

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Gender and Time Allocation of Cohabiting and Married Women and Men in France, Italy, and the United States

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Cohabitation as a precursor or alternative to (first) marriage has increased dramatically in Europe and English-speaking countries outside Europe such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (Waite et al. 2000; Kiernan 2001; Nazio 2008). Cohabitation is also increasingly the partnership of choice in new relationships formed after divorce, slowing the rate of entry into remarriages in the United States and other countries. Despite the increase in cohabitation, we know little about how labor, particularly unpaid labor, varies among men and women across union types and across varying contexts (Davis and Greenstein 2004; Davis et al 2007).5 This paper compares and contrasts men's and women's time spent in market and nonmarket work in three distinct contexts where the degree of institutional support for marriage and cohabitation varies.

The rise in cohabitation as an alternative family form occurred much earlier and is much more common in Northern than in Southern Europe. Yet countries in the South, such as Spain and Italy, are now also experiencing an increase in cohabitation. There is greater acceptance of cohabitation as a "legitimate" or "normal" family form and cohabitation is less distinct from marriage in Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and in France than in countries like the United States and Italy. Cohabiting unions can be registered in France, for example, whereas they have no form of legal recognition in Italy. The United States is the most complex case study in that it has the most variance in legal rights for cohabiters. Benefits that accrue to partnered individuals are extended to cohabiters in some locations and situations but not in others, with no universal guarantee of rights (such as health care access) to cohabiting partners.

Even in the countries where cohabitation is widespread, however, an individual's claim to benefits - such as a spouse's pension or the right to inherit property - is often stronger for those who are legally married.6 In many, if not all countries, marriage tends to confer more legal rights and obligations than cohabitation. This tends to create greater risk and uncertainty should the relationship disrupt for cohabiting than for married individuals. Legal institutions can directly or indirectly influence marriage behavior - e.g., directly through tax incentives that encourage (or discourage) marriage over cohabitation and indirectly by restricting benefits to married partners versus cohabiting partners (see Barg and Beblo 2010 for a discussion of institutional differences between cohabitation and marriage in Germany; Waaldijk 2003 and 2004 for a comparison of general legal nature of married and cohabiting relations; Bradley 2001 for a "legal tradition" account of differences between marriages and cohabitation in western European Union countries, and the special issue of the "International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family" (Oxford University 2001)). Under conditions where greater benefits and protections accrue to married partners, there may be incentives to marry, especially for the partner with less earning power.

There may also be greater incentives for partners, especially women, to invest in unpaid work in married than in cohabiting unions because married spouses are typically entitled to certain monetary benefits from their spouse in the event of union dissolution. When individuals invest in unpaid work for the family, it can allow for more efficiency, less redundancy, and greater ability to enhance well-being (particularly if the other partner invests in paid work), but there are also potential costs if the relationship should end. Although in theory both men and women may enjoy the greater protection offered by marriage and thus may have greater incentives to engage in unpaid work therein, it is typically women that reduce time in market work to spend more time in nonmarket housework and family care (Thiessen et al. 1994; Gershuny et al. …

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