Informal Unions in Mexico and the United States


cohabitation, union formation, marriage, common law marriage


The dramatic rise in cohabitation in the United States and other Western industrial societies signals a major shift in union formation. In many Latin American countries, however, there is a long tradition of couples living in unions without formal legal sanction. The paper compares recent trends and patterns of union formation in Mexico and the U.S. In contrast to marriage, cohabitation patterns in the U.S. and Mexico appear to have begun from different starting points. Informal unions in Mexico began with a history of informal, common law marriages. In contrast, in the U.S. cohabitation began in the late 60s and early 70s outside the mainstream on the margins of social behavior. Currently, cohabitation is more common in the U.S. than is informal marriage in Mexico, but age patterns of union formation are parallel. Higher education increases the likelihood of marriage over informal unions in each context. Informal unions are less stable in each country.

Original Publication Citation

Heaton, Tim and Renata Forste. 2007. “Informal Unions in Mexico and the United States” Journal of Comparative Family Studies, 38(1):55-69

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



University Standing at Time of Publication

Full Professor