Exploring the relationship between education and union type for women in Brazil

Mariana de Araújo Cunha, DPhil Student in Sociology at the University of Oxford, Nuffield College, Oxford, United Kingdom.

Ana Paula Verona, Associate Professor and Researcher of the Department of Demography at the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG), Center for Development and Regional Planning (Cedeplar), Belo Horizonte-MG, Brazil.

Logo do periódico Revista Brasileira de Estudos de PopulaçãoBrazil has experienced a significant increase in cohabitations – meaning conjugal unions without a marriage certificate issued by the State – in the last few decades. Before the 1980s, informal conjugal unions were seen almost exclusively among groups with lower education and income. This type of union was a more economically viable alternative to a formal marriage and created support networks for families in times of crisis. Recently, however, informal unions have become more common for all educational groups and social classes in Brazil.

The paper Consensual conjugal unions among higher educated women: understanding the heterogeneity in the Brazilian context (Rebep, vol. 39, 2022) explores this period of change and reveals that, as the composition of women in cohabitation changed in Brazil, so did the social meaning of this type of union.

Simultaneously to the increase in cohabitations, the Brazilian context has been marked by an educational expansion. In this process, people of less favourable socioeconomic backgrounds started to enter (and remain) in the Brazilian educational system. Many young women who are currently in higher education represent the first generation of their families to enter university. This educational expansion led to an increased heterogeneity within schooling groups (BAR-HAIM AND SHAVIT, 2013), which may have affected the previously stablished relationship between schooling and type of conjugal union in the country.

Aiming at contributing to this discussion, the study uses data from the Brazilian demographic censuses to evaluate the association between type of conjugal union (formal or informal) and education in Brazil. The analysis is performed on women between the ages of 25 and 29 in the years of 1980 and 2010. As a second objective, the paper also evaluates the heterogeneity in type of union among the highly educated, for women between the ages of 25 and 29 in 2010, and how it relates to socioeconomic class, race/colour and religion.

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Women in some type of union – formal or informal – represented around 72% of all women aged 25–29 in 1980 and 60% in 2010. Among those in union with at least some university education, the proportion of women in cohabitation grew from 4.3% to 32.2% in these 30 years. The growth for women in of lower educational level is, however, much larger, going from 14.8% to 66% for those with less than primary education.

Through the use of logistic regressions, the research results show that, despite the increasing proportion of higher educated women in informal unions, these women were still more likely to be in formal unions (vs. informal) when compared to women with low education between 1980 and 2010. More surprisingly, these differences not only remained over time, but actually increased. Our results also showed that even in this more selective group of women with higher education, the ones of higher social class were much more likely than those of the lower classes to be in formal unions (vs. informal). Results by race/colour show that black and brown women are less likely to be in formal unions than white women with the same level of education.

The results of the paper are in line with was hypothesized by Vieira (2016), about the intergenerational replication of conjugal behaviour. The results indicate that, more than pointing to a diffusion of the Second Demographic Transition to lower socioeconomic groups, the increasing acceptance of informal unions in Brazil is more likely tied to the cultural and historical roots of this union type for the population. Women of lower socioeconomic background, whose parents and grandparents chose informal unions, continue to replicate this behaviour even as they themselves achieve better education and socioeconomic status.

Regarding religion, even among the most educated, evangelicals are much more likely (compared to Catholics) to be in formal unions. The recent growth of evangelicals in Brazil also suggests a potential difficulty for the diffusion of the Second Demographic Transition in Brazil.


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To read the article, access

CUNHA, M.A. and VERONA, A.P. Consensual conjugal unions among higher educated women: understanding the heterogeneity in the Brazilian context. Rev. bras. estud. popul. [online]. 2022, vol. 39, e0221 [viewed 12 January 2023]. https://doi.org/10.20947/S0102-3098a0221. Available from: https://www.scielo.br/j/rbepop/a/krDWgJ7pmRPVWKFnn83KSwk/

External links

Revista Brasileira de Estudos de População – RBEPOP: https://www.scielo.br/rbepop/

Mariana de Araújo Cunha: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4750-3997

Ana Paula Verona: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-2062-9194

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Cedeplar: Twitter

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Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

CUNHA, M.A. and VERONA, A.P. Exploring the relationship between education and union type for women in Brazil [online]. SciELO in Perspective: Humanities, 2023 [viewed ]. Available from: https://humanas.blog.scielo.org/en/2023/01/13/exploring-the-relationship-between-education-and-union-type-for-women-in-brazil/


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