Puerto Rican family
Toward the end of the 19th century in Puerto Rico, a great proportion of marriages were of the common-law variety – uniones consensuales. According to the census of 1899, 34 percent of married people lived in common-law marriages. Since that time, the proportion has declined progressively over time; the census of 1970 estimated the number at 8 percent and the census of 1980 at 4 percent. Even so, the census seems to have underestimated the number of these marriages in recent decades. Today, these unions are referred to with a variety of names – convivientes (people living together), compañeros (companions), amigos (friends), etc. – and the couples are rarely referred to as living in uniones consensuales.
The data from a survey carried out by the School of Public Health of the Medical Sciences Campus of the University of Puerto Rico in 1982 shows that 30.2 percent of all marriages were, at the beginning, of the common-law variety. [Table1] The incidence of such marriages was closely associated with the person's age at marriage; the incidence was very high among women who married very young as well as among those who married when elderly. In addition, this kind of marriage was more frequent among women living in rural areasRural areas: Areas of the countryside, generally devoted to agriculture. and those living outside of metropolitan areas. Common-law marriage continued to predominate among groups at the lowest socioeconomic levels.
Many common-law marriages are legalized as time goes on. The only factors that appear to have some influence on this decision are time and having children. In relative terms, the greatest increase seems to occur during the first year of marriage. In the group of women who reported having no children, the proportion that had legalized the marriage was 30 percent. That percentage increased consistently in keeping with the number of children. Among the women with four or more children, the proportion reached 59.3 percent.
Common-law marriages are extremely unstable in comparison with legal marriages. In this survey, almost half (49.5 percent) of the women who began their married lives in common-law marriages reported that their first marriage had been dissolved through separation or divorce. The figure for women who began in legal marriages was 24 percent.
Common-law marriages are more common in second marriages. This is due to a higher proportion of women who have had a legal marriage that dissolved changing to a common-law marriage when they re-married. However, the immense majority of those who have had a common-law marriage that dissolved continue with the same type of marital relations in latter marriages.
Contrary to what the census datacensus data: Statistical information in the population and housing census. indicate, common-law marriages, by whatever name they are called, are an important alternative to legal marriage in Puerto Rico. This type of relationship, which had been declining since the beginning of the twentieth century, began to rise anew during the 1960s and in recent years has reached very high levels. The tendency may be attributed in part to the so-called sexual revolution, women's liberation, and skepticism regarding legal marriage -a consequence of the extraordinary increase in divorce which has made a myth of the promise that such marriages would endure forever.
Autor: José L Vázquez Calzada
Published: September 20, 2010.
Version: 06082101 Rev. 1