Understanding diversity in the meaning of cohabitation across Europe

N. Hiekel, A.C. Liefbroer, A.R. Poortman

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


This study investigates the diversity in the meanings attached to cohabitation across Europe. Utilizing a sample of 9,113 cohabiters between ages 18 and 79 from 10 European countries that participated in the Generations and Gender Surveys, we develop a typology of different meanings of cohabitation and study their prevalence across and within countries. Based on answers to questions about marriage intentions, marriage attitudes and feelings of economic deprivation, six types of cohabiters are distinguished. Cohabiters in some of these types mainly view cohabitation as a stage in the marriage process (i.e. a prelude to marriage, a trial marriage, cohabitation for economic reasons, intend to marry, despite an unfavourable attitude towards the institution of marriage), whereas other cohabiters mainly view it as an alternative to marriage (i.e. refusal of marriage, marriage is irrelevant). Results suggest that cohabiters constitute a heterogeneous group. For many, marriage is important and cohabitation serves as a period preceding marriage. Cohabitation as an alternative to marriage is more prevalent in Western and Northern Europe, where cohabitation rates are high. The group of cohabiters who intend to marry despite an unfavourable attitude towards the institution of marriage is particularly large in Central and Eastern European countries, where cohabitation is less widespread.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-410
JournalEuropean Journal of Population
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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