Non-marital cohabitation in Italy
XI, 299 pages. Rostock, Universität Rostock (2009)
The focus of this dissertation is on the - so far hesitant - spread of non-marital cohabitation in Italy. The combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods offers insights into the effects of individual and family characteristics as well as the subjective motivations behind and perceptions on cohabitation.
During recent decades, non-marital union has spread rapidly in most European and other Western countries and it has become established as an alternative living arrangement. In the Mediterranean context, however, its significance tends to remain small. In Italy especially, we observe only a slight diffusion of cohabitation. The reasons are multi-layered but can nevertheless be attributed in the main to the interaction between the prevailing cultural system and the peculiarities of the Italian welfare state. A more pronounced but still slight diffusion of this way of life can be noticed in the northern regions of Italy, whereas the percentage of non-marital unions continues to be low in the South. This compares to the whole of Italy, where cohabitation tends to be a precursor of the transition to marriage: Most couples exit from cohabitation to enter conjugal union, and do so especially when giving birth. Only 10% of all children are born out of marital union.
Understanding the strong interrelationship between marriage and childbirth enables us to gain a deeper understanding of this aspect of the culture of reproduction in Italy. The dissertation aims to answer two different types of questions. The first focuses on the social background that influences women’s transition to informal cohabitation in Italy. The second question concerns the motivations, perceptions, and expectations young women have when deciding for or against cohabitation. We use techniques of event-history analysis to examine the impact of cohort, religion, education, conception, and other factors on the entry into non-marital unions. Qualitative methods form the basis of analyzing the individual decision-making process as well as the intergenerational transmission of values. In order to capture regional differences, we concentrate on Bologna and Cagliari, conducting 30 semi-structured interviews with cohabiting women aged 25 to 40 in each of the two cities. For northern Italy, we select Bologna. Here, cohabitation has seen relatively extensive diffusion: In 2001, for example, about 7.6% of all unions were cohabitations. Cagliari, situated on the southern tip of Sardinia and representing the South of Italy, by contrast has witnessed low levels of informal relationships. In 2001, about 3.2% of all Cagliari couples lived in cohabitation (Censimento 2001). Our aim is to provide an explanation for the low diffusion of non-marital unions in Italy and Mediterranean Europe as a whole. Since we combine qualitative and quantitative methods, we are able to provide evidence from both the macro and micro perspective. The consideration of two regions that are at a different stage of development each - as far as family formation is concerned - allow us to gain deeper insights into the evolution of informal cohabitation in Italy.
Our findings show, among others, that we find a special kind of cohabitation in Italy that differs considerably from cohabitation in other European countries. In most cases, women perceived their relationship as a lifelong union and did not consider separation. In that respect, cohabitation resembles marriage. In addition, our interview material reveals that women in Bologna decided for non-marital relationships out of choice, whereas women in Cagliari did so out of constraint: Given the tight situation at the Sardinian labor market, couples fail in achieving the prerequisites they considered as necessary for marriage, i.e., secure employment, housing of their own, and the ability to pay for a traditional wedding.
Keywords: Italy, cohabitation