My dissertation provides a cross-national comparative study on the diverse meanings of unmarried cohabitation in contemporary Europe. It offers an up to date analysis of patterns and trends of unmarried cohabitation across a number of European countries and analyzes how cohabiters differ in their reasons and motives to live together without being married. The study shows how the types of cohabitation relate to cohabiters’ plans to have children, the way they manage money and their subsequent relationship decisions. It also identifies country differences in the mix of meanings of cohabitation and the association between these meanings and relationship outcomes. The book is of interest to family sociologists and social demographers who aim at understanding the changing role of unmarried cohabitation in union and family formation processes from a European perspective.

Nicole Hiekel (2014): "The different meanings of cohabitation across Europe. How cohabiters view their unions and differ in their plans and behaviors", Dissertation: Amsterdam University Press 2014 [URL]

ISBN: 978-90-6984-682-8


"In contemporary Europe more people live together as a couple without being married and they do so for different reasons. When people differ in their views on cohabitation this has consequences for their plans and behaviors in these relationships. This is shown by research that Nicole Hiekel conducted at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI-KNAW). She will defend her dissertation today at the VU University Amsterdam.

Hiekel analyzed survey data from the Generations and Gender Surveys (www.ggp-i.org) and compared around 10,000 cohabiters in different European countries. In order to examine differences between individuals as well between Western and Eastern European countries she developed a typology that differentiates among cohabiter based on their intentions to marry in the future, their attitudes toward the institution of marriage and their economic situation. Moreover, she studied whether these types of cohabiters differ in their plans (Do they want a child or not?), relationship behavior (Do they pool their financial resources or not?) and their future relationship stability (Do they marry, separate or stay cohabiting?).

She shows that there is a large diversity in how cohabiters view their unions. Most cohabiters view their relationship as a step on the road to marriage. Some have already firm plans to marry, others are testing their relationship and again others are establishing the economic preconditions to think about marriage. A smaller but significant proportion of cohabiters views their relationship as an alternative to marriage, by either ideologically opposing or considering it irrelevant to marry. Living together is a more diverse phenomenon in Western Europe where overall more people cohabit. Across Europe, it is increasingly common —particularly among the marriage-prone cohabiters—  that cohabiters plan to or already have children and that they manage their incomes in a joint pool.

Hiekel’s dissertation contributes to our understanding that cohabiters are a diverse group with their relationship trajectories varying accordingly to what it means to them to be cohabiting. Her results suggest that the increasing popularity of cohabitation does not imply that marriage is disappearing but that cohabitation is taking over functions that were exclusively reserved for married couples in the past."


                                  Press release, May 15th, 2014, Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute