Academic journal article Demographic Research

Traditional and Modern Cohabitation in Latin America: A Comparative Typology

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Traditional and Modern Cohabitation in Latin America: A Comparative Typology

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Patterns of family formation have changed markedly over the past decades in the West. Economic, technological, social, and ideational changes have led to significant transformations in family life, such as union formation, union stability, and gender relations. In developed countries, new forms of living arrangement, especially unmarried cohabitation, are interpreted as outcomes of the modernization process, female economic independence, and the rising symmetry in gender roles (van de Kaa 1987). Recent evidence has shown that cohabitation in the West is also related to economic deprivation and has been used as an alternative to marriage by people with few economic resources or poor economic expectations (e.g., Hiekel et al. 2012; Kalmijn 2011; Kiernan et al. 2011 [for European results]; Sassler and Miller 2011; Bumpass et al. 1991 [results for the US]).

Although the rise in consensual unions is present in developed countries as well as in Latin American countries, the features of these unions can differ. This study seeks to contribute to the existing literature by investigating the types of cohabitation that exist in Latin America, as well as their prevalence, main characteristics, and evolution through time. Therefore we differentiate types of cohabitation on the basis of the relationship context at their beginning (woman's age and occurrence of pre-cohabitation pregnancy or childbearing) and their outcomes in terms of childbearing (number of children and mother's age at birth of first child).

The coexistence of marriage and cohabitation is a historical feature of nuptiality in Latin America (Castro-Martin 2002). Cohabitation has always been marked by high fertility, it was most prevalent in rural regions and among the lower and less-educated social classes (Parrado and Tienda 1997). Today, there is evidence that another type of cohabitation is coming into existence alongside traditional cohabitation in the region (e.g., Castro-Martin 2002; Esteve et al. 2012). Yet the exact interpretation of this new type of cohabitation, often characterized as a more modern type of union formation, remains unclear. Indications exist illustrating that this type of cohabitation is closely linked to the consensual union practiced by higher-educated groups in Western developed countries5 (Binstock and Cabella 20116; Parrado and Tienda 19977), where cohabitation is usually a childless period, an alternative to marriage or singlehood, and more visible among younger cohorts (Heuveline and Timberlake 2004; Kiernan 2004). Thus, in Latin America, the choice of cohabiting instead of getting married could be related to either tradition or modernity.

Although several studies have explored different types of cohabitation in Latin America (i.e., Castro-Martin 2002; Esteve et al. 2012; Parrado and Tienda 1997), none of them empirically differentiate the traditional type of consensual union from the modern type. In addition, no research has been found which illustrates how these types of cohabitation develop over time in the region. This study seeks to bridge this gap by examining whether it is possible to differentiate types of cohabitation through information on union formation and childbearing. Next, how these types of cohabitation develop over time in different Latin American contexts is verified. In addition, this study assesses whether the prevalence of the different types of consensual union varies across different family structures (extended, composite, or nuclear), women's age, and educational groups.

For this purpose we use data about first cohabitations8 from the Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) for eight Latin American countries (i.e., Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Peru). Additionally, since these countries are quite heterogeneous in terms of colonization history, socioeconomic development, and spoken language, we compare the different types of consensual union across these countries. …

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