Cohabitation in Europe: a revenge of history?
SourceThe History of the Family, 20, 4, (2015), pp. 489-514
14 september 2015
Article / Letter to editor
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The History of the Family
SubjectEurope and its Worlds after 1800; Self, Script and Society
Unmarried cohabitation is often seen as a radically ‘new’ phenomenon, originating in the 1960s, but in fact it has long historical antecedents. The question is, however, whether traditional and modern cohabitation are comparable and whether we can speak of persistence. This article offers a literature review on cohabitation in Europe, with the focus on persistence over time, integrating the results of a 2013 conference on this topic. What sources are available to confirm or reject such persistence? How should we understand persistence? In terms of the motivations of unmarried cohabitants? Or in terms of the acceptance of the community at large? And if no real persistence is found, does this mean that European cohabitation since the 1970s truly represents ‘new’ behaviour? We show that, on the regional level, the legacy of the past is still visible in factors affecting the timing and frequency of marriage of cohabiting couples. These factors are a mixture of regional socio-economic constraints, the relative cultural importance attached to marriage, the religious history, and the level of secularization.
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