Volume 32 - Article 5 | Pages 147–182  

The reproductive context of cohabitation in comparative perspective: Contraceptive use in the United States, Spain, and France

By Megan Sweeney, Teresa Castro Martín, Melinda Mills

This article is part of the Special Collection 19 "New Relationships from a Comparative Perspective"

Abstract

Background: Discussions of cohabitation’s place in family formation regimes frequently emphasize comparisons of reproductive behavior among married versus cohabiting couples. Many argue that the rise in cohabitation may have been fueled by availability of highly effective contraception, but that differences in contraceptive use between married and cohabiting couples should diminish as cohabitation becomes more established.

Objective: We ask whether cohabiting women in the United States, Spain, and France are more likely than married women in these countries to use the most effective contraceptive methods and reversible methods. We also investigate whether the association between union status and contraceptive use has changed since the mid-1990s.

Methods: Using data from the U.S. National Survey of Family Growth, the Spanish Fertility, Family and Values Survey, the French Gender and Generations Survey, and the Fertility and Family Surveys, we first descriptively compare contraceptive use patterns of cohabiting women to those of married women and then estimate regression models to adjust for group differences in key background factors.

Results: Net of differences in age and parity, cohabitors were more likely than married women to use the most effective contraceptives in the mid-1990s’ United States and France, yet notably not in Spain even when cohabitation was relatively uncommon. The case of Spain thus refutes the assumption that highly effective contraception is a necessary precursor for dramatic growth in cohabitation.

Author's Affiliation

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