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Non-Martial Cohabitation and Change in Norms: The Case of Norway

Natalie Rogoff Ramsøy
Acta Sociologica
Vol. 37, No. 1 (1994), pp. 23-37
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4200883
Page Count: 15
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Non-Martial Cohabitation and Change in Norms: The Case of Norway
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Abstract

Norms and sanctions regulating the sexual behavior of the unmarried have changed in many societies in recent decades, such that significant numbers of the population, especially although not exclusively among the young, live together openly as unmarried partners. A transition period, characterized by high rates of premarital pregnancies, lasted longer in Norway than in neighboring countries. Below it is suggested that the source of the delay may be found in a cleavage in Norway's social structure. In some regions of the country a pietistic attitude dominated, in others a liberal attitude. This was a major axis of Norwegian politics from the end of the nineteenth century until well into the twentieth. Acts of Parliament swung from severe punishment of 'concubinage', as it was called, to remarkably early laws providing public support when needed for unwed mothers and their children. Punitive sanctions against illegitimacy were enforced only for a brief period, although the law remained on the statute books until the 1970s. The signals sent to the population were sufficiently mixed as to create a condition of pluralistic ignorance, inducing more conformity to strict sexual behavior than occurred elsewhere. The most recent investigations provide convincing evidence to support the contention that non-marital cohabitation has now become a civil status accepted by all.

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