Cohabitation among Secular Jews in Israel: How Ethnicity, Education, and Employment Characteristics Are Related to Young Adults' Living Arrangements

By Manor, Avital; Okun, Barbara S. | Demographic Research, July-December 2016 | Go to article overview

Cohabitation among Secular Jews in Israel: How Ethnicity, Education, and Employment Characteristics Are Related to Young Adults' Living Arrangements


Manor, Avital, Okun, Barbara S., Demographic Research


1. Introduction

In the last four decades family-related behavior and attitudes have undergone major shifts in Western societies. This set of changes is often referred to in the literature as the Second Demographic Transition (SDT). One of the characteristics of this transition has been the rise of nontraditional living arrangements, among them unmarried cohabitation (Sobotka 2008; Lesthaeghe 2010). Two economic theories and one ideational theory offer an explanation for the spread of cohabitation.

According to the economic theory of comparative advantage, the rise of cohabitation is the result of an increase in women's education and labor force participation, which have reduced the gains from marriage (Becker 1991; Blossfeld 1995). An alternative economic explanation focuses on the rise of young adults' career uncertainty, particularly among less educated young men, and the resulting decline in marriage and increase in cohabitation (Oppenheimer 1988; Oppenheimer 2003). Ideational theories stress the role of secular individualistic attitudes (associated with higher education) in the recent spread of cohabitation (Lesthaeghe and Surkyn 1988; Lesthaeghe 2010).

Cohabitation in Israel has been increasing in the last decade, especially among the secular and less religious populations (Bystrov 2012; Manor 2013; Okun 2016). This study analyzes a series of five annual data files from the Israeli Social Survey (ISS), 2005-2009. A multinomial logit regression method is employed to examine how ethnicity, education, and employment characteristics are related to living arrangements among secular Jews in Israel.

2. Theoretical background

2.1 Cohabitation

Historically, cohabitation has been practiced mainly by the poor, who could not afford to marry, or by couples who could not legally be married (e.g., separated individuals who were not able to divorce) (Kiernan 2004; Sobotka and Toulemon 2008). However, the new form of cohabitation that came to the fore in Sweden and Denmark during the 1960s and in northern and western European countries, North America, and Australia and New Zealand in the 1970s could be termed 'nubile cohabitation. ' In this type of cohabitation young people in their twenties or early thirties live together as a prelude to marriage or as an alternative to it.3 Much of the decline in marriage that has occurred in many European countries in recent decades is related to the rise in this type of cohabitation (Kiernan 2000) and this is also true for the Unites States (Bumpass and Lu 2000; Raley 2000).

Today the phenomenon of unmarried couples living together has become widely accepted across Europe. In many countries premarital cohabitation has become the norm and direct marriage is practiced mainly by religious and ethnic minorities (Sobotka 2008). In France the proportion of couples beginning their union with unmarried cohabitation increased from 10% to 90% during the period 1965-1995 (Sobotka and Toulemon 2008). Cohabitation has also become strikingly common in the Nordic countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland. Southern European countries, on the other hand, still exhibit relatively low levels of cohabitation (Kiernan 2004).

There is a debate in the literature (Heuveline and Timberlake 2004; Perelli-Harris 2014) regarding whether, in certain contexts, cohabitation may be seen as "indistinguishable" from marriage (Kiernan 2001: 3). One important dimension associated with the extent to which cohabitation is 'marriage-like' relates to childbearing patterns within cohabiting unions. While childbearing within cohabitation has become increasingly common in recent decades in many parts of Europe and the United States, and accounts for a growing proportion of nonmarital childbearing, patterns of childbearing differ between cohabiting and married couples: for example, the educational gradient of childbearing among cohabiting couples (as well as among unpartnered women) is more negative than among married couples. …

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