Unmarried cohabitation among deprived families in Chile
It is clear that unmarried cohabitation is increasing in Chile. It is less clear what unmarried cohabitation is and why is it rising. In Latin America cohabitation is common among low income groups, and has been described as a surrogate marriage for the disadvantaged. Cohabitation in the region entails conventional gender roles and having children. It has been explained by colonial dominance, poverty, kinship, and machismo. The evidence amassed here indicates that although in practice cohabitation is similar to marriage, they are not the same. In fact, cohabitation has decreased social visibility. Cohabitation does not entail any social ceremony or rite. As it is not institutionalised it remains concealed from both social recognition and social scrutiny. Thus it tolerates partners who are dissimilar, or can be sustained despite a higher level of difficulties in a relationship. The findings validate previous research as cohabitation is sparked by pregnancy, parental tolerance - mainly through not enforcing marriage -, a close mother-son bond –which inhibits marriage-, and the material costs of marriage. The research follows a life course perspective. It is based on twenty four qualitative life histories of urban deprived young people, women and men, involved in a consensual union and with children.
In Chile from the 1990s onwards cohabitation started to show a sharp increase. Prevalent views explain rising cohabitation as an outcome of processes of individualization, democratization of relationships, and female emancipation. This research suggests that rising cohabitation, among young people from low income groups in Chile, is linked to enhanced autonomy (i.e. declining patriarchy), and to social benefits targeted to single mothers. Young people are gaining autonomy as union formation is increasingly an outcome of romantic love and not of being forced into marriage. Furthermore cohabitation rose right at the end of Pinochet’s dictatorship, at a time of enhanced freedom and autonomy. By contrast, rising cohabitation does not seem to be related to female emancipation. Interviewees themselves reproduce conventional gender roles, and social policies targeted to the single mother are based on conventional views on womanhood.