By INGRID PERITZ
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
MONTREAL -- Edna Langis and Pierre Charbonneau of Montreal have all the trappings of modern married life -- a home, a car, two teenage kids and a commitment to stay together through good times and rocky times.
What they don't have is a marriage certificate, a fact that places them in good company in Quebec. If the two most common words between Quebec couples used to be "I do," they have now become, "What for?"
"Marriage wouldn't have made our relationship any stronger," said Mr. Charbonneau, a 45-year-old freelance photographer who has lived with Ms. Langis for 26 years. "Our feeling is, 'Why tamper with success?' "
Quebec has joined Sweden, that laboratory for all things liberal and liberated, as the champion of unmarried couples in the world.
Census figures released yesterday by Statistics Canada show nearly 30 per cent of Quebec couples skip the nuptials and live together, compared with only 12 per cent in the rest of Canada and 8 per cent in the United States.
The up-and-coming generation in Quebec may even be making the institution of marriage extinct: Nearly two in three Quebeckers under 35 who live together didn't bother walking down the aisle.
"Quite simply, Quebeckers aren't getting married any more," said Josée Martel, a demographer with Statistics Canada. "And marriage is no longer a prerequisite to having children."
The Charbonneau-Langis household in Montreal's Notre Dame de Grâce district is typical. The couple moved in together in the mid-1970s when Mr. Charbonneau was still in school and Ms. Langis had just started working.
Over the years, they watched several friends and family members get married, sometimes after living together for many years. Yet many of the marriages broke up.
Ms. Langis's seven brothers and sisters all tied the knot. Today, only one is still married.
"After so many years together, I asked myself, 'Why do it? What would it bring us?' " Ms. Langis asked.
"A piece of paper isn't going to strengthen our commitment."
Analysts have begun to question the long-term effect of Quebeckers' trend toward common-law marriage, which continues to grow.
Common-law marriages dissolve more easily than conventional marriages. Among couples with children, those who live common-law are 2.5 times more likely to break up than those who are married, studies show.
"There's more family mobility in Quebec," said Cécile Le Bourdais, a demographer who specializes in changes to the Quebec family. "We're asking about the repercussions all the time: What will the instability mean down the road?"
But those who have chosen the unmarried route say it's made no difference to them or their children: Nowadays, classrooms are filled with children whose parents never married.
Bertrand Desjardins, a 53-year-old university researcher, has three children with a woman he has lived with for more than a quarter of a century.
"Marriage has no religious dimension any more, so what is it?" he asked.
"We can have a commitment and children without taking a legal step. "In fact, I've asked myself: 'Why do people get married at all?' "