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Conjugal Outcomes of Different Types of Non-cohabiting Relationships

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A Longitudinal Approach to Family Trajectories in France

Part of the book series: INED Population Studies ((INPS,volume 7))

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While one in ten people have a stable intimate relationship with a non-cohabiting partner, this situation encompasses a multitude of realities.

Following the same people over 6 years, this chapter shows that only 22% of persons were still in a relationship with the same non-cohabiting partner after 3 years, and just 12% after 6 years. The others had either moved in with their partner or separated from him/her.

The study also seeks to identify how the characteristics of the persons, of their conjugal trajectory and of their non-cohabiting relationship are associated with the outcome of that relationship. Conjugal outcomes are very different depending on the timing of the relationship in the life cycle. With the possible exception of persons who have already had a partner (widowed or separated with children), non-cohabitation most often corresponds to an experimental phase and/or a transitional stage before living together under the same roof.

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  1. 1.

    See Levin 2004, on the origin of the acronym (p. 227).

  2. 2.

    Special sessions are now devoted to this topic at conferences, such as at the Annual Meeting of the Population Association of America. The call for papers for the 2014 conference of the Association Internationale des Démographes de Langue Française (AIDELF) in 2014 included the theme of “different ways of being in a couple, including semi-cohabiting and living apart together (LAT)”.

  3. 3.

    The Fertility and Family Surveys conducted in the 1980s also included questions about LAT, but they were less detailed.

  4. 4.

    The proportion depends on the questions asked in the surveys and on the definition used, since the concept remains vague (Régnier-Loilier 2014). But this is not what interests us here.

  5. 5.

    This is a translation of the French expression “ni seules ni en couple” used in the chapter published in 2009 in Portraits de familles (Beaujouan et al. 2009). Here it is used interchangeably with the more common English expression LAT.

  6. 6.

    Unlike other surveys, such as the 1996–1998 General Social Survey in the United States (Ströhm et al. 2009) and the 2002–2003 Omnibus Survey in the United Kingdom (Haskey 2005), the question in the GGS was not limited to married couples.

  7. 7.

    Based on the Famille et logements (Family and Housing) survey (INSEE 2011), where the question asked of respondents was: “Are you currently in a relationship?” The response categories were: “Yes, with a partner who lives in the same home/Yes, with a partner who lives in a different home/No, but I have been in a relationship in the past/No, I have never been in a relationship”.

  8. 8.

    In Waves 2 and 3 of the survey, a question was asked to determine how the non-cohabiting union described in wave 1 had ended (by separation or by the partner’s death). However, the question was not asked consistently owing to a filtering error in the questionnaire (it was only put to respondents who were in a new relationship with a new partner, but not to respondents who were alone).

  9. 9.

    The separation of a cohabiting couple usually leads to a change of address for one or both partners. This increases the risk of attrition (more frequent loss of contact) and can thus lead to underestimation of separations in a longitudinal analysis. We can reasonably assume that the dissolution of a non-cohabiting relationship less frequently leads to a change of address, however. On the other hand, when the partners in a non-cohabiting relationship move in together, one or both partners change address. We may therefore have under-estimated the percentage of non-cohabiting partners who make this transition. We will therefore limit our analysis to a comparison of the different sub-groups, without seeking to accurately measure these transitions.

  10. 10.

    Catherine Villeneuve-Gokalp (1997) also found in France that “few couples survive long-term residential separation”: 5 years after the beginning of a union, only 12% were still together in separate homes (p. 1063).

  11. 11.

    Justified by the small numbers in some groups: see Appendix Fig. 3.8.

  12. 12.

    We suggest a causal link here, even if the numbers and the available data do not enable us to verify this (it would have been interesting to compare the date of completion of education and the end of short-term employment with the date of moving in together).

  13. 13.

    The reasons are often several and contradictory. The same situation may be perceived by some as a choice and by others as a constraint.

  14. 14.

    Some studies nevertheless mention as a reason for living apart the fact that one partner lives with an elderly parent in need of care (see, for example, Levin and Trost (1999) on Sweden, and Milan and Peters (2003) on Canada).


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Correspondence to Arnaud Régnier-Loilier .

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Fig. 3.8
figure 8

Percentage of relationships that ended between 2005 and 2008 by profile and intention of cohabiting in 2005 (5% confidence intervals) (Source: ERFI-GGS12, INED-INSEE, 2005–2008)

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Régnier-Loilier, A. (2017). Conjugal Outcomes of Different Types of Non-cohabiting Relationships. In: Régnier-Loilier, A. (eds) A Longitudinal Approach to Family Trajectories in France. INED Population Studies, vol 7. Springer, Cham.

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