Volume 32 - Article 10 | Pages 311–340  

Risk-avoidance or utmost commitment: Dutch focus group research on views on cohabitation and marriage

By Nicole Hiekel, Renske Keizer

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


Background: Dutch adults grew up in a highly individualized country, characterized by high divorce rates, which may have influenced their views on cohabitation and marriage.

Objective: We examine Dutch adults' perceptions of how similar or different cohabitation and marriage are, whether they believe that cohabitation would be a strategy to avoid the risk of divorce, as well as their views on why people marry in individualized societies.

Methods: We analyze seven focus group interviews with 40 Dutch participants, collected in 2012 in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Results: Many participants discussed differences and similarities between cohabitation and marriage in a context of high divorce rates, and frequently viewed cohabitation as a risk-reduction strategy. At the same time, marriage was often seen as ―the real deal‖, in terms of legal arrangements, but also as a symbol of utmost commitment. Less educated participants viewed more financial advantages in cohabitation compared to marriage, and felt more strongly about the symbolic value of marriage than their highly educated counterparts. There was strong consensus that there is not, and should not be, a social norm to marry.

Conclusions: In a context of high relationship instability, cohabitation has become a risk-reduction strategy. When norms to marry are weak, people may marry in order to emphasize the uniqueness of their relationship. However, the individualistic nature of Dutch society is mirrored in respondents' reluctance to set standards or proscribe norms on why and when to marry and their emphasis that cohabitation can also imply high levels of commitment.

Author's Affiliation

Other articles by the same author/authors in Demographic Research

Love. Break up. Repeat: The prevalence and stability of serial cohabitation among West German women and men born in the early 1970s
Volume 39 - Article 30

Generations and Gender Programme Wave 1 data collection: An overview and assessment of sampling and fieldwork methods, weighting procedures, and cross-sectional representativeness
Volume 34 - Article 18

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

Income pooling strategies among cohabiting and married couples: A comparative perspective
Volume 30 - Article 55

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