Cohabitation and gender: is freedom masculine and commitment feminine?

Monika Mynarska, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University
Ann M. Berrington, University of Southampton
Ann Evans, Australian National University
Olga G. Isupova, National Research University Higher School of Economics
Renske Keizer, Erasmus University Rotterdam
Andreas Klaerner, Universität Rostock
Trude Lappegård, Statistics Norway
Brienna Perelli-Harris, University of Southampton
Eva-Maria Schmidt, Universität Wien
Daniele Vignoli, Università di Firenze

The prevalence of non-marital cohabitation continues to increase in most developed countries: young couples cohabit more often, for a longer period of time, and they also have children in informal unions with an increasing frequency. With a growing number of families formed by unmarried partners, the reasons for, and the consequences of, people’s choices to cohabit or to marry remain central in demographic and social research. In numerous studies on cohabitation and marriage, the themes of commitment and freedom are discussed and the two forms of unions are frequently compared along these themes. In our study, we aim at advancing this strand of research by analysing them from a gendered perspective. Our research goal is to investigate whether there are any differences in how the meanings of commitment and freedom are socially constructed in relation to men and women? We address this question using a unique set of 79 focus group interviews conducted with 599 men and women in ten cities across Europe and Australia. We systematically analyse narrations on cohabitation and marriage in all settings to see what aspects of freedom and commitment are mentioned and how they are discussed in relation to gender. The comparative study design allows for generating important insights into how gender attitudes and the diffusion of cohabitation are intertwined. Moreover, it provides a better understanding of how concepts of gender identity are still fundamental to partnership dynamics.

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Presented in Session 105: Family development