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The Main Reasons for The Rise in Non Marital

  • 07 Pages
  • Published On: 19-12-2023


(ddd) defined cohabitation as an arrangement where two individuals are not married but live together while involving themselves in sexually intimate or romantic relationship on a permanent or long-term basis. As per Barrington & Stone (2015), the number of cohabitation unions has significantly increased in the past few decades, especially in Western countries. A such, considerable pieces of research have investigated the patterns, issues, differentials and trends of cohabitation in different European nations and the United States. The current essay will look at the Second Demographic Transition (SDT) Approach and cultural shift and liberalization of family behaviors in order to argue that the increasing trend of cohabitation in western societies is attributable to changing socio-cultural patterns.

Cultural shift and liberalization of family behaviors

One of the most significant factors that have led to non-marital cohabitation is the significant cultural changes and liberalization of family behaviors. For instance, Edin & Kefalas (2005) studied and explained the concept of Maslowian preference drift, whereby Maslow and other scholars noted a greater economic development in the society that led to a change from concerns about material needs (e.g. economic and physical security, shelter and subsistence) to non-material needs such as autonomy, self-realization, emancipation, participation and freedom of expression. Such changes, as the authors noted, were accompanied by a change in value structures that promoted respect for individual choices while tolerating diversity (Lesthaeghe, 2010).

It is based on this greater respect and tolerance of individual choices that have contributed to the increasing trend of non-stigmatization of premarital and extramarital sex in society, making childbearing outside of marriage a common thing. As per McLanahan (2004), there has been a ‘sexual revolution’, whereby the society is increasingly questioning the notion that sex is only meant for married couples and purposefully for procreation. Today’s younger generation tend to seek sex for its own purposes, accusing the older generation of hypocrisy (Perelli-Harris & Gerber, 2011). Consequently, the tend to engage in freer relationships such as cohabitation that are likely to give them more opportunities for exploring their sexual pleasures while still maintaining the freedom to opt out and explore with other partners (Lesthaeghe, 2010).


As per Perelli-Harris et al (2010), upon childbearing before marriage, several other issues related to macroeconomic environment, residence, and education, which might significantly interfere with their marriage arrangements emerge. The persistence of such issues in the long-term encourage individuals choose non-marital cohabitation over marriage because, for example, cohabitating provides a freer environment to opt out of the relationship in case the socio-economic factors do not favor them being in the relationship (Lesthaeghe, 2010). With the increasing trend of having children outside marriage Lesthaeghe, 2010), it is easier for individuals to select cohabitating over marriage because the society no longer stereotypes women with children outside marriage. They no longer feel the social pressure associated with having children outside wedlock and can therefore fulfil their desire t have children while at the same time living a freer life outside marriage (ddd).

Still, on cultural changes, Perelli-Harris et al (2010) observed that the ages of marriage are increasingly on the rise and the proportion of the ever-married women declining due to the cultural insertion of a period of interim premarital cohabitation, people increasingly choosing to live a longer single life and leaving home at a later stage. For example, one would prefer to ‘enjoy’ their ‘freedom’ of premarital cohabitation for longer before they finally get into marriage because the society’s culture allows so (Perelli-Harris et al, 2010). A longer period of pre-marital cohabitation also provides adequate opportunity to live with parents as they try to ‘figure out’ what living arrangement works best for them.

Similarly, the past few decades (i.e. from the 1950s) s) has been characterized by a rapid prolongation of education for both males and females as well as a significant change in the educational composition of the Western population. Consequently, as per Perelli-Harris et al (2010), individuals tend to delay stronger social commitments such as marriage and opt for a more open relationship such as cohabitation that gives them more time and space to study rather than focus on building the ‘institution of marriage’ with their partners.

On the same note, Barrington & Stone (2015) remarked that the same period has also been marked by an increase in post-marital cohabitation and childbearing by non-married couples, interestingly in the areas that previously have strict customs in the 19th and 20th century. For instance, the societal cultural change over the years has made it easier and non-discriminatory for individuals to start relationships with divorced partners and raise kids together without the fear of stigmatization or stereotyping (Barrington & Stone, 2015).

The Second Demographic Transition (SDT) approach to cohabitation (II)

The concept of cohabitation has largely been approached in two major perspectives namely, the First demographic transition (FDT) and the second Demographic transition (SDT). FDT refers to the original decline in mortality and fertility in the Western countries during the 18th and 19th century (Barrington & Stone, 2015). On the other hand, the SDT refers to the period of 20th century, characterized by a multiplicity living arrangements alternative to marriage, the disconnected phenomenon between procreation and marriage, and constantly changing populations (Perelli-Harris et al, 2010).

Existing research has attributed increased non-marital cohabitation to the changing cultural patterns of marriage and divorce during the SDT time. As the societies were transitioning from FDT to SDT, as per Peri-Rotem & Scott (2017), they shifted from a culture strengthening family and marriage characterized with strict divorce legalization to new cultural orientations of divorce acceptance, as well as the questioning of legal life-long partnerships. This was characterized by a cultural trend of rational evaluation of marriage with regards to the welfare of both partners to the marriage first, then the welfare of the children (Barrington et al, 2015). For example, marriage and divorce laws across many states have now been simplified, making it easier for partners to opt out of marriage and opt into cohabitation in a win-win fashion. As opposed to the time during FDT, SDT times have been characterized by easier divorce procedures and more liberal divorce terms that facilitate extra-marital cohabitation while still maintaining marriage benefits such as child support and child custody (Peri-Rotem & Scott, 2017).

The STD approach proposes that increasing economic uncertainty and globalization have significantly contributed to the spread of cohabitation. Contextually, job insecurity and uncertainty about the future has depicted cohabitation as a less containing and more reversible alternative to marriage, especially those with fewer resources as well those with less professional skills (Lesthaeghe, 2010). Tied to this point is the reality of increased fragility of men’s position in the society, which may explain an increase in non-marital births and retreat from marriage (Lesthaeghe, 2010). In the face of hard economic times, for example, men fail to effectively play their socio-economic roles, leading to more women choosing less-binding relationships with them e.g. non-marital cohabitation.

During the SDT period, according to Perelli-Harris et al (2010), remarriages among divorced and widowed people declined in favor of cohabitation or other looser forms of relationships such as intimate friendships. As per Barrington & Stone (2015), this may not only help to protect the inheritance rights of children but also facilitate tax advantages for the individuals. In places like USA, for example, new laws such as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act 2018 has led to more strategic divorce emergence of strategic cohabitation because it provides a higher tax liability after high income couples file jointly, allowing for a higher taxation for high net worth couples within the 37% tax bracket. In such a case, individuals might be better off being single, at least in the eyes of the taxman.

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In conclusion, this essay has established that liberalization of family behavior and cultural shift are some of the most significant factors that have contributed to a rise in non-marital cohabitation in Western countries. As societies’ love for autonomy, respect for individual decision, and less stigma to premarital or extramarital sex. Similarly, drawing from the SDT approach to cohabitation, this study has noted that the process of increasing economic uncertainty and globalization has played a significant role in non-marital cohabitation. In the wake of hard economic times, society is facing an increased preference for less constraining and more reversible alternatives to marriage.


Berrington, A. and J. Stone (2015). Cohabitation trends and patterns in the UK. ESRC Centre for Population Change Report: University of Southampton.

Berrington, A., B. Perelli-Harris and P. Trevena (2015). Commitment and the changing sequence of cohabitation, childbearing, and marriage: Insights from qualitative research in the UK. Demographic Research, 33(12): 327–362.

Edin, K. and Kefalas, M. (2005). Promises I can keep: Why poor women put motherhood before marriage. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lesthaeghe, R. (2010). The unfolding story of the Second Demographic Transition. Population and Development Review, 36(2), 211-251.

McLanahan, S. (2004). Diverging destinies: how children are faring under the second demographic transition. Demography, 41(4): 607-627.

Perelli-Harris, B. and T. P. Gerber (2011). Nonmarital childbearing in Russia: Second demographic transition or pattern of disadvantage? Demography, 48(1): 317–342.

Perelli-Harris, B., W. Sigle-Rushton, M. Kreyenfeld, T. Lappegård, R. Keizer and C. Berghammer (2010). The educational gradient of childbearing within cohabitation in Europe. Population and Development Review 36(4): 775-801.

Peri-Rotem, N. and Scott, J. (2017). Differences in partnership and marital status at first birth by women’s and their partners’ education: evidence from Britain 1991–2012. Vienna Yearbook of Population Research, 15: 1-32.

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