Meanings: “POSSLQ”

April 15, 2013

I was reminded yesterday of “POSSLQ,” a Census Bureau term introduced in the 1970s to collect data about co-habitation in the United States. “POSSLQ” is an acronym for Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters.  The term even entered common parlance as people hunted around for acceptable terms for life partners to whom they were not married — along with “sweetheart,” “live-in boyfriend,” “main squeeze,” and “significant other.”  CBS Newsman and radio poet Charles Osgood even produced this lovely bit of POSSLQ verse (with apologies to John Donne):


Come live with me and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands and crystal brooks
With silken lines, and silver hooks.
There’s nothing that I wouldn’t do
If you would be my POSSLQ.

You live with me, and I with you,
And you will be my POSSLQ.
I’ll be your friend and so much more;
That’s what a POSSLQ is for.

And everything we will confess;
Yes, even to the IRS.
Some day on what we both may earn,
Perhaps we’ll file a joint return.
You’ll share my pad, my taxes, joint;
You’ll share my life – up to a point!
And that you’ll be so glad to do,
Because you’ll be my POSSLQ.

Drawing on POSSLQ, the Census Bureau data showed a marked increase in opposite sex co-habitation (across all races) from the 1970s to the 1990s:POSSLQ 77 to 97

From Lynne M. Casper, Philip N. Cohen, and Tavia Simmons, “How Does POSSLQ Measure Up? Historical Estimates of Cohabitation,” Census Bureau, 1999.


In the midst of the current sea change in attitudes towards same-sex marriage, it is striking to look back at POSSLQ with its assumption that co-habitation was a phenomenon of interest only with regard to opposite sex partners.

It is also striking to look at the steady rise in such opposite sex cohabitation and listen to claims that same-sex marriage will be the death knell of “traditional” (that is to say opposite sex) marriage. Clearly, marriage and its alternatives have been in transition for quite some time.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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