Recent demographic trends signal that the time has come for family researchers and policymakers to take a serious look at cohabitation. The rise in the number of couples in the United States who opt to cohabit outside of marriage has risen markedly over the last several decades. Forty-one percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44, have cohabited, and 7% of women in this age bracket are currently cohabiting. For some, cohabitation is a prelude to marriage. Other couples opt to live together after dissolving a previous marriage and may do so for months or even years. For a growing number of men and women, cohabitation is not linked to marriage in any way but is a long-term substitute for formal marriage and may involve having children. Although cohabitation is on the rise, family scholars have been somewhat slow to focus on this evolving family form. Indeed, little is known about the conditions that give rise to cohabitation and the consequences of this family form for cohabiting adults and their children. Understanding the meaning of cohabitation across racial and ethnic groups, for men, women, and children, and for the quality of family relationships is a crucial prerequisite to developing social policy in this area.
The chapters in this volume are based on the presentations and discussions from a national symposium entitled “Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation for Children, Families, and Social Policy, ” held at the Pennsylvania State University, October 3&3 1, 2000, as the eighth in a series of annual interdisciplinary symposia focused on family issues. The book is divided into four sections, each dealing with a different aspect of Cohabitation. The first section addresses the big picture question, “What are the historical and cross-cultural foundations of cohabitation?” British demographer Kathleen Kiernan addresses this issue by using a variety of survey data sets that encompass variations across European nations. Her chapter is complemented by the comments of demographer Nancy Landale, sociologist Julie Brines, and human development scholar Andrea Hunter who widen the comparative framework to encompass some of the ethnic and racial diversity in North America and Latin America.
The second section focuses specifically on North America and asks, “What is the role of cohabitation in contemporary North American family structure?” The lead chapter by demographers Pamela Smock and Sanjiv Gupta provides a detailed picture of the circumstances that appear to give rise to cohabitation, including comparative data on Quebec, where cohabitation is strikingly high, and the rest of Canada. Chapters by Rukmalie Jayakody and Natasha Cabrera, an interdisciplinary team, Rebekah Levine Coley, a developmental researcher, and Celine Le Bourdais, a demographer from Quebec, take different angles on this issue. Two key issues that emerge in their chapters is the need to think about cohabitation in a more process-oriented way and the importance of comparing cohabiting families