The Nonmarital Childbearing Network

The Intersection Between Childbearing and Union Status

Focus Groups

To cohabit or to marry? Insights from focus group research in 9 countries in Europe and Australia

Across the industrialized world, more and more couples are living together without being married (Perelli-Harris et al 2012, Heuveline and Timberlake 2004, Sobotka and Toulemon 2008, Kiernan 2004). This new phenomenon raises many questions about these partnerships and their implications for marriage.

First, what is the meaning of these relationships? Are they becoming alternatives to marriage, or are they a stage on the way to marriage? Do couples want to marry but face obstacles in achieving their goals? Or are they rejecting marriage in favour of relationships that provide more freedom and independence?

Second, is the meaning of cohabitation similar across countries? Are the reasons for cohabiting similar across countries, or are the reasons context-specific, indicative of historical, cultural, and socioeconomic dynamics that vary across space and time?

In this project, we use focus group research to compare the meaning of cohabitation and marriage in Australia and nine countries in Europe. We examine themes such as the advantages and disadvantages of cohabitation and marriage, barriers and motivations to marry, and the appropriate life stages to marry. We also examine the role of children and policies in potentially prompting marriage, as well as perceptions about the future of marriage.

To our knowledge, this is the first time focus group methodology has been applied with the intention of comparing results across countries. The comparative nature of this research highlights similarities and differences across societies and draws out country-specific distinctions. In addition, because we have stratified the groups by gender and education, we can better understand within-country heterogeneity and look for parallels in group responses across countries. Taken as a whole, this study illuminates how societies and cultures shape decision-making processes that are fundamental to partnership formation.

For publications see Demographic Research Special Collection on “Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia":

Perelli-Harris, B., L. Bernardi (2015): " Exploring social norms around cohabitation: The life course, individualization, and culture: Introduction to Special Collection: "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia" Demographic Research 33(25): 701-732.

Perelli-Harris, B., M. Mynarska, A. Berrington, C. Berghammer, A. Evans, O. Isupova, R. Keizer, A. Klaerner, T. Lappegård, D. Vignoli (2014): "Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia." Demographic Research 31(34): 1043-1078.

Vignoli, D., S. Salvini (2014): " Religion and union formation in Italy: Catholic precepts, social pressure, and tradition." Demographic Research 31(35): 1079-1106.

Mynarska, M., A. Baranowska-Rataj, A. Matysiak (2014): " Free to stay, free to leave: Insights from Poland into the meaning of cohabitation." Demographic Research 31(36): 1107-1136.

Berghammer, C., K. Fliegenschnee, E.-M. Schmidt (2014): " Cohabitation and marriage in Austria: Assessing the individualization thesis across the life course." Demographic Research 31(37): 1137-1166.

Lappegård, T., T. Noack (2015): " The link between parenthood and partnership in contemporary Norway - Findings from focus group research." Demographic Research 32(9): 287-310.

Hiekel, N., R. Keizer (2015): " Risk-avoidance or utmost commitment: Dutch focus group research on views on cohabitation and marriage." Demographic Research 32(10): 311-340.

Isupova, O. (2015): " Trust, responsibility, and freedom: Focus-group research on contemporary patterns of union formation in Russia." Demographic Research 32(11): 341-368.

Berrington, A., B. Perelli-Harris, 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

Countries participating:

The Netherlands
Great Britain