Volume 31 - Article 37 | Pages 1137–1166  

Cohabitation and marriage in Austria: Assessing the individualization thesis across the life course

By Caroline Berghammer, Katrin Fliegenschnee, Eva-Maria Schmidt

This article is part of the Special Collection 17 "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"


Background: Although cohabitation has spread rapidly in Austria during the past decades, it is more a prelude than an alternative to marriage. The individualization thesis serves as a conceptual framework for explaining the rise of cohabiting unions.

Objective: Our aim is to understand what motivates people to cohabit and marry from an individualization perspective. The present study was designed to investigate in which ways key notions of the individualization thesis such as commitment, romantic love and risk are reflected in discourses on cohabitation and marriage.

Methods: Research is based on data from eight focus group discussions (71 participants) conducted in Vienna, Austria, in 2012. This data was analyzed with the help of qualitative methods.

Results: The focus group participants regarded cohabitation and marriage as different life course strategies. They felt that young adulthood is a period characterized by uncertain external circumstances, in which people build up commitment in cohabitation without feeling limited in terms of opportunities. As dissolving a cohabiting union entails lower costs, the risk posed by this type of union was considered low. The respondents associated marriage with security and long-term commitment and saw it as an ideal for a later stage in life. They argued that romantic love and individual satisfaction should prevail throughout the entire marriage. Core terms of the individualization thesis - commitment, romantic love, and risk - were perceived differently between cohabitation and marriage. We conclude that the individualization thesis best fits young adulthood and is less relevant for later life stages.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Towards a new understanding of cohabitation: Insights from focus group research across Europe and Australia
Volume 31 - Article 34

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