Cohabitation, legal policies, and cultural systems: divergence across post-Soviet space

Olga G. Isupova, Higher School of Economics, Moscow
Brienna Perelli-Harris, University of Southampton

This paper compares the legal policies and cultural systems related to cohabitation and marriage in 11 Post-Soviet countries. The former Soviet Union is an interesting case study, because before the break up of the Soviet Union, all countries had nearly the same Family Code and very low nonmarital childbearing, while afterwards, both policies and family formation behavior diverged radically. The goal of the study is to understand differences between the legal treatment of marriage and cohabitation in each country. We systematically examine 19 policies clustered in five general areas: guarantees to partners in the case of divorce (separation) or death; needs of special groups (such as adoption rights and rights to reproductive technologies); parent-child relations; and taxation/social benefits. These policy areas are then summarized so that each country can be placed along a spectrum, with countries that harmonize cohabitation and marriage at one end, and countries that treat cohabiting and married couples differently at the other end. Policy differences and similarities across countries are then compared with actual levels of nonmarital childbearing. Preliminary finding show that in spite of a shared history of legal and cultural systems, differences between countries are substantial, even when the percent of nonmarital childbearing is almost equal. To better understand these differences, we explore the examples of Georgia and Estonia, with high incidence of childbearing within cohabitation, and Armenia and Ukraine, which have lower levels. More detailed analysis of how the underlying factors of policies and practices interplay will be developed in the full paper.

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Presented in Session 5: Family policies