Educated women choosing to be mothers without marrying their spouses

In Latin America, consensual (common-law) unions are traditionally associated with poorer or indigenous populations. But recent research is turning this conventional wisdom on its head, finding that that in the past 30 years or so consensual unions have become increasingly popular throughout Latin America, including in higher-income groups. In certain countries, such as Panama, common-law partnerships are now as widespread as in Quebec.

Another widely held belief was that only low-income, uneducated women bore children in consensual unions. But a new study led by Benoît Laplante, professor at INRS Centre Urbanisation Culture Société, shows that this is no longer true. The proportion of university-educated women choosing to have children out of wedlock remains relatively small in Latin America, but it is rising significantly. It is simply no longer the case that only uneducated Latin Americans choose to start a family without getting married. Research demonstrates that in most Latin America countries, regardless of level of education, fertility rates correlate with the fact of living in a conjugal relationship, not with the legal nature of the relationship.

“Consensual partnerships among urban, educated people can no longer be viewed merely as precursors to marriage,” notes Professor Laplante. “They should be seen as a step in the life-cycle, one which affords the possibility of procreation, as has traditionally been the case in lower socioeconomic strata of Latin American societies.”

The study found that, even for the economically privileged, consensual unions and marriage are two coexisting family models. In this regard Latin America is beginning to resemble western European societies and Quebec. This leaves the English-speaking regions of the Americas as the only parts of the continent where marriage is still considered the normative family arrangement for child-rearing by the well-off.


Educated women choosing to be mothers without marrying their spouses The study was published in the March 2015 issue of the prestigious journal Population and Development Review.

About this publication

The article, “Childbearing within Marriage and Consensual Union in Latin America, 1980-2010,” is published in Population and Development Review, vol. 41, no. 1. Research was supervised by Benoît Laplante of INRS, Teresa Castro-Martín and Teresa Martín-García of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas in Madrid, and Clara Cortina of Barcelona’s Universitat Pompeu Fabra, with funding from the EU’s FamiliesAndSocieties project (Seventh Framework Programme 2007-2013).

About INRS

Institut national de recherche scientifique (INRS) is a graduate-level research and training university and ranks first in Canada for research intensity (average grant funding per faculty member). INRS brings together some 150 professors as well as 700 students and postdoctoral fellows at its four centres in Montreal, Quebec City, Laval, and Varennes. Its applied and fundamental research is essential to the advancement of science in Quebec and internationally even as it plays a key role in the development of concrete solutions to the problems faced by our society.

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