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Four - From marriage to alternative union forms

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 April 2022

Torbjörn Bildtgård
Affiliation:
Stockholms universitet Institutionen för socialt arbete
Peter Öberg
Affiliation:
Högskolan i Gävle, Sweden
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Summary

In this chapter we continue the empirical investigation into the changing landscape of late-life intimacy. A central aspect of the transformation of intimacy is the deinstitutionalisation of marriage and the concurrent emergence of alternative forms for intimacy. The purpose of this chapter is to investigate union form in older people's intimate relationships. Older people are often expected to be conservative in their choice of union form – because they grew up in a time when marriage was the norm for people in intimate relationships, they are assumed to still prefer marriage for their unions. In this chapter we question this assumption and show that at least with regard to union form, older people tend to follow the times they live in, being part of the transformation of intimacy described in Chapter two. But we also argue that the later phase of life seems to have its own conditions that shape the choice of union form, such as having a wealth of earlier relationship experiences, being in a phase beyond work and reproduction, and having a restricted remaining lifetime. By showing the importance of the historical transformation of intimacy and the particular conditions of later life for the choice of union form, this chapter provides a foundation for the arguments in the following chapters.

A smorgasbord of union forms

Contemporary older people can choose from a number of different union forms, ranging from different types of LAT relationships, to living together in non-marital and marital cohabitation. If marriage for a long time was the normative and established union form for an intimate relationship, this hegemony has for half a century been challenged, first by non-marital cohabitation and later by LAT relationships, both of which can be a prelude, or an alternative, to a formalised marriage.

Cohabitation can be defined as two people living in an intimate relationship and sharing the same household (cmpr. Chevan, 1996). In some countries non-marital cohabitation has become an accepted alternative to marriage, while in others it is still a marginal phenomenon. Kiernan (2002) identifies four stages in the historical development of unmarried cohabitation: (1) a deviant avant-garde phenomenon, (2) a prelude to marriage, (3) a socially accepted alternative to marriage, (4) an alternative indistinguishable from marriage. According to Kiernan, Sweden and Denmark were among the first countries to make the transition into the fourth stage.

Type
Chapter
Information
Intimacy and Ageing
New Relationships in Later Life
, pp. 43 - 56
Publisher: Bristol University Press
Print publication year: 2017

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