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Changing youth: transition to adulthood in Norway - page 8 / 17

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Source: The surveys of standard of living 1980, 1983, 1987 and 1991.

Marriage has decreased considerably, and unmarried cohabitation has been rather stable since the latter part of the 1980s. In a Norwegian context non-martial cohabitation must be seen against the fact that a paragraph forbidding concubinage was added to the criminal code in 1902. The law was removed in 1972. Although no one was prosecuted, the law indicates the general acceptance of cohabitation and the norms regulating sexual relations. Perhaps this stronger disapproval of living together outside of marriage partly explains why the rates of cohabitation were lower in Norway than in Sweden and Denmark in the 1970s (Ramsøy, 1994:28). Today cohabitation is an established civil status, but it is seems to be quite common to marry after the first child is born (Blom et al., 1993:59). To be sure, many couples wait for some years. With the passage of time, cohabitation will perhaps also be a more permanent civil status for those who have children.

What does cohabitation mean to young people? Is it merely a marriage without the formalities, or is it perceived as something different? There is some evidence showing that cohabitation may be perceived differently from a traditional marriage (Trost, 1994:51). Some young people may consider themselves as cohabiting when they are going steady, but having their own homes and living some time together and some time apart. The point is that cohabitation is defined by some sort of mutual understanding between the two partners, and not by formal rules like a marriage. Trost also found cases where the partners disagreed in their definition of the situation. Since cohabitation is not as strongly regulated by formal and informal rules as marriage, there is room for a variety of arrangements. The partners may choose the way that suits them. Having the first child may be seen as a transition to a more committed relationship between the partners. Therefore, it is not a surprise that a majority

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