Volume 33 - Article 25 | Pages 701–732  

Exploring social norms around cohabitation: The life course, individualization, and culture: Introduction to Special Collection: "Focus on Partnerships: Discourses on cohabitation and marriage throughout Europe and Australia"

By Brienna Perelli-Harris, Laura Bernardi

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


Background: Explanations of the increase in cohabitation often rely on the concept of ideational change and shifting social norms. While researchers have investigated cohabitation and the role of social norms from a quantitative perspective, few studies have examined how people discuss the normative context of cohabitation, especially in cross-national comparison.

Objective: This article introduces a Special Collection that uses focus group research to compare social norms relating to cohabitation and marriage in 8 countries in Europe. The Introduction explicates the concept of social norms, describes the focus group project, reflects on the method’s advantages and limitations, and summarizes the theoretical and methodological contributions of the project.

Methods: Collaborators conducted 7−8 focus groups in each country using a standardized questionnaire. They coded each discussion, analyzed the results, and produced a country-specific chapter on a particular theme. They also collaborated on an overview paper that synthesized the overall findings of the project.

Results: The articles provide insights into the meanings of partnership formation in each country. In addition, their findings contribute to three main theoretical themes: 1) life courses, sequencing, and intersections; 2) individualization, freedom, and commitment; and 3) culture, religion, and the persistence of the past.

Conclusions: This Special Collection contributes to and challenges current explanations of family change by pointing out how social norms shape partnership behavior. The project informs quantitative research by emphasizing the need for a culturally informed interpretation of demographic behavior. We urge researchers to recognize the multiple meanings of cohabitation within each context and across countries.

Author's Affiliation

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