Cohabitation and Social Engagement

Christoph M. Schimmele, University of Victoria

In Canada, cohabitation has transformed from a marginal to a normative life experience. However, there are uncertainties about how cohabitation fits into kinship systems. Of especial interest is whether cohabitation represents a marriage-like institution in terms of its organizational, functional, and social attributes. This article compares cohabiting-couple unions to marital unions on social engagement to determine if cohabitation is advancing toward becoming a complete institution. The article compares cohabitation to marriage on several dimensions of social engagement, including social contact with relatives, number of close friends, development of social networks, social participation, and reciprocal exchange. For these comparisons, the article uses 2003 General Social Survey (GSS-17) data (N = 25,000) and multivariate statistical techniques. These dimensions of social engagement are crucial sources of social capital, which is a cornerstone of durable union relationships. The article concludes with an empiric-based re-conceptualization of what cohabitation represents in socio-demographic terms.

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Presented in Session 39: International Perspectives on Cohabitation