Attitudes towards unmarried cohabitation in Europe

Lívia Murinkó, HCSO Demographic Research Institute
Zsolt Spéder, Demografic Research Institute Budapest

The attitude towards unmarried cohabitation differs considerably across Europe, ranging from wide-scale acceptance to rejection. The aim of the present paper is to test three competing hypotheses regarding the cross-country differences in the level of approval of cohabitation in Europe. Firstly, a tolerant attitude may be positively related to the popularity of unmarried unions in a given society. Secondly, the level of labor market insecurity may positively affect the acceptance of cohabitation, because unmarried union is a more flexible partnership form and makes the adaptation to uncertainties of other life spheres more feasible than marriage, or alternatively, there may be a negative relationship because marriage is a way a reducing uncertainty. Thirdly, secularization may make cohabitation a more desirable partnership form than marriage. The third round of European Social Survey (2006) is used in the present analysis. Multilevel regression models are applied where individuals are nested within countries (N1=43675, N2=25). The dependent variable is the following: “How much do you approve or disapprove if a woman / a man lives with a partner without being married to him / her?”. There is one or two country-level variable for each hypothesis: percentage of cohabiting respondents aged 25-39 among those who live either in marriage or in cohabitation; youth unemployment rate, percentage of respondents in paid work who think they are likely to become unemployed in one year; mean level of religiosity. Analysis confirmed the first hypothesis and secularization has no effect on the country level. Labor market insecurity has contradictory effects. On the one hand, the institution of marriage may serve as a stable point under insecure labor market conditions, it may reduce and compensate for insecurity in the public domains of life. On the other hand, people with unemployment experience are more tolerant towards cohabitation in higher unemployment country context.

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Presented in Session 91: Multilevel perspectives on his and her life course in Europe