European Journal of Population

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 391–410 | Cite as

Understanding Diversity in the Meaning of Cohabitation Across Europe

  • Nicole HiekelEmail author
  • Aart C. Liefbroer
  • Anne-Rigt Poortman


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.


Cohabitation Cross-national comparison Generations and Gender Surveys Central and Eastern Europe 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicole Hiekel
    • 1
    Email author
  • Aart C. Liefbroer
    • 1
    • 2
  • Anne-Rigt Poortman
    • 3
  1. 1.Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI)University of Groningen (RUG)The HagueThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute / University Medical Center Groningen and VU University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of SociologyUtrecht University, The NetherlandsUtrechtThe Netherlands

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