Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Reproductive Context of Cohabitation in Comparative Perspective: Contraceptive Use in the United States, Spain, and France

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Reproductive Context of Cohabitation in Comparative Perspective: Contraceptive Use in the United States, Spain, and France

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Few topics have fascinated family demographers more than the dramatic rise of nonmarital cohabitation in industrialized countries. Cohabitation shifted from being unusual to a relatively common phenomenon over the past thirty years in the United States (Bumpass and Lu 2000; Kennedy and Bumpass 2008). European countries vary considerably in the role played by cohabitation in broader patterns of romantic partnership. Cohabitation has increased rapidly in much of Northern and Western Europe in recent decades, whereas the diffusion of non-marital cohabitation has been slower across Southern Europe (e.g., Di Giulio and Rosina 2007). Levels of cohabitation in France are lower than the Nordic countries but remain well above Eastern and Southern Europe (Köppen 2010; Potârca, Mills, and Lesnard 2013). Although cohabitation remains relatively uncommon in Italy (Nazio and Blossfeld 2003), recent evidence suggests that a dramatic change in patterns of union formation may be unfolding in Spain (Dominguez-Folgueras and Castro-Martin 2013).

These shifting patterns of family formation raise fundamental questions about how cohabiting unions fit into the broader landscape of family life. Scholars frequently investigate patterns of reproductive behavior to understand how the function of cohabitation differs from that of marriage, and how this varies among subpopulations, across countries, and over time (e.g., Guzman et al. 2010; Hayford and Guzzo 2010; Heuveline and Timberlake 2004; Kiernan 2001; Manning 2001; Musick 2002; PerelliHarris et al. 2010; Raley 2001). The cases of the United States, Spain, and France provide a compelling comparative investigation of the reproductive context of cohabitation, as these countries are widely considered to represent three distinct regi mes of cohabitation behavior (e.g., Heuveline and Timberlake 2004). Although contraceptive use directly influences the likelihood that a woman will give birth, and is thus a key proximate determinant of fertility (Bongaarts 1978; Davis and Blake 1956), relatively little is known about patterns of contraceptive use among cohabiting women.

The current analysis sheds light on recent patterns of contraceptive use among cohabitors in the United States, Spain, and France, and brings new evidence to bear on debates regarding change and variation in the relative meanings of cohabitation and marriage in each country. Comparing several sources of recently released data - the United States' 2006-10 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG), Spain's 2006 Fertility, Family, and Values Survey, and France's 2005 Gender and Generations Survey - to data from the Fertility and Family Surveys of the mid-1990s, we ask whether cohabiting women are more likely than married women to use highly-effective and reversible contraceptive methods, and also investigate whether the association between union status and contraceptive use has changed over time. Data from the 2006- 10 NSFG offers an opportunity to investigate how the reproductive behavior of cohabitors has evolved in recently available national data for the United States. Studies of contemporary patterns of contraceptive use in Spain and France are scarce, with particularly little known about contraceptive use patterns among cohabiting women in these countries (Bajos et al. 2012; Castro-Martin 2005).

2. Background

Recent discussions about the nature of family change in industrialized countries emphasize the shifting relationship context of reproductive behavior. Many scholars argue that European countries are in the midst of a partnership transition, progressing through a series of stages where cohabitation is first relatively rare and normally childless, to a relatively common relationship in which children are commonly born and reared within both marriages and cohabiting unions (e.g., Kiernan 2002; Perelli-Harris et al. 2010; Prinz 1995). Such typologies have been expanded to include the United States. …

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