Census measures of union formation in the time of cohabitation

Jeroen J. A. Spijker, Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CED)
Albert Esteve, Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CED)
Teresa Antònia Cusidó, Centre d’Estudis Demogràfics (CED)

If today Hajnal would have had to use proportions single from census data to characterize marriage regimes of countries in terms of marriage timing and intensity, he would be faced with the widespread phenomenon of non-marital cohabitation which is increasingly dissociating relationship status from legal marital status. Writing almost half a century ago, Hajnal was already aware of the fact that there are several accepted forms of marital union in some societies whereby only some are classified as marriages in the census, i.e. mainly those declared by the civil or ecclesiastical authorities and since then, cohabitation has increased in varying degrees in most, though not all parts of the world. The main objective of the paper is therefore to document how historically as well as currently censuses have dealt with the issue of cohabitation. To do so, we have exhaustively analyzed of over 900 census questionnaires, representing almost 200 countries, thus covering most of the world's population from 1970 to 2010. The inventory showed that direct ways in which cohabitation is captured include using the question on marital status (e.g. “common-law marriage”), a separate question on consensual unions if available and from the relationship to the head of household question (e.g. “spouse”). Indirect way include the presence, or existence, of own children (the latter of which is usually only asked to women). Although researchers have criticized in the past the use of census data for research in demographic behavior as it does not permit the analysis of transitions, the advantages of census data (i.e. its sample density, its detail and its multi-level perspective) may outweigh its inconveniences depending on the objective of the research. For the final paper, the best available option to capture current cohabitation according to census questionnaires for each country will be presented.

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Presented in Session 74: Census and administrative data: measures and estimates

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