COHABITATION IN THE UNITED STATES: An Appraisal of Research Themes, Findings, and Implication- LONG BLOG POST #2

Smock, Pamela J. 2000. “Cohabitation in the United States: An Appraisal of Research Themes, Findings, and Implications.” Annual Review of Sociology. Vol.26, pp.1-20.

Unmarried heterosexual cohabitation in the US has risen dramatically over a short period of time. 

Introduction

  • Most marriages begin with cohabitation; furthermore, most young men and women cohabited at some point in their lives.

Basic Fact about Cohabitation

  • Direct measures in regards to recording and researching cohabitation began in the 1900’s.
  • The percentage of marriages preceded by cohabitation rose from about 10% for those marrying between 1965 and 1974 to over 50% for those marrying between 1990 and 1994.
  • The percentage of women in their late 30s who report having
    cohabited at least once rose from 30% in 1987 to 48% in 1995.
  • The proportion of all first unions (including both marriages and cohabitations) that begin as cohabitations rose from 46% for unions formed between 1980 and 1984 to almost 60% for those formed between 1990 and 1994.

Trends and Patterns

  • Cohabitation has increased dramatically over the past two decades.
  • The percentage of marriages preceded by cohabitation rose from about 10% for those marrying between 1965 and 1974 to over 50% for those marrying between 1990 and 1994
  • Second, the percentage of women in their late 30s who report having cohabited at least once rose from 30% in 1987 to 48% in 1995.
  • The proportion of all first unions that begin as cohabitations rose from 46% for unions formed between 1980 and 1984 to almost 60% for those formed between 1990 and 1994.
  • About one half of previously married cohabiters and 35% of never-married cohabiters have children in the household.
  • And contrary to much of the discourse on single motherhood, a very substantial proportion of births conventionally labeled as “nonmarital” are actually occurring in cohabiting families—almost 40% overall, and roughly 50% among white and latino women and a quarter among black women.

Differentials – 2 Factors that emerge 

1.  Cohabitation tends to be selective of people of slightly lower socioeconomic status, usually measured in terms of educational attainment or income

Example:

Recent data show that the percentage of 19- to 44-year-old women
who have cohabited at some point is almost 60% among high school dropouts
versus 37% among college graduates.

2. Cohabitation tends to be selective of people who are slightly more liberal, less religious, and more supportive of egalitarian gender roles and nontraditional family roles

Just about everyone cohabits; blacks, white, latinos, young and old.

Why has it become so common?

  • Some aspects may be labeled cultural.
  • Increased importance of individual goal; decline in religious involvement over he years.
  • Economic factors
  • After the sexual revolution, cohabitation wasn’t as frowned upon as it was in previous years.
  • High aggregate levels of marital disruption can increase the likelihood that people will cohabit as they learn either through observation or experience that marriage may not be permanent.

How Does Cohabitation Affect Marital Stability

  • Premarital cohabitation tends to be associated with lower marital quality and to increase the risk of divorce, even after taking account of variables known to be associated with divorce.
  • The characteristics that people into cohabitation in the first place, such as nontraditional values and attitudes or poor relationship skills, are also those that increase the risk of marital instability.
  • Something about cohabitation itself, i.e., the experience of cohabitation, that increases the likelihood of marital disruption above and beyond one’s characteristics at the start of the cohabitation.

Where does cohabitation fit into the US family system?

  • Cohabitation is either a stage in the marital process (i.e., a form of engagement that culminates in marriage) or a substitute for marriage.
  • Cohabitation is more appropriately viewed as an alternative to single-hood than to marriage. The authors argue that cohabitation represents an extension of dating and sexual relationships and that its ideology does not include permanence.
  1. A study by Brown & Booth (1996) suggests that there may essentially be two types of cohabiting couples: those who have plans to marry and those who do not. They show that the former are quite similar to married

Mate Selection Studies

  • Assortative mating, or the propensity of people to marry those like themselves, is a well-established area of sociological research
  • Patterns of partner choice can provide insight into how cohabitations are similar to, or different from, marriages
  • Overall, married couples appear to be somewhat more homogamous in age, religion, and race-ethnicity, although findings are mixed regarding education
  • Schoen & Weinick’s (1993) study suggests that cohabiting couples are more homogamous with respect to education than married couples

Childbearing Studies

  •  For white women, cohabitation is a stage in the marriage process
  • The main conclusion emerging from studies is that there are race ethnic differences in the relationship between pregnancy, cohabitation, and marriage and thus possibly race-ethnic differences in the meaning of cohabitation.
  • The majority of women in the United States overall do not at this time conceive or give birth during cohabitation.
  • The key point is that patterns vary by race-ethnicity.

How does Cohabitation Affect Children?

  • Cross-sectional statistics indicate that only a small proportion of children live in cohabiting households at any one point in time.

Two important issues regarding children’s experience of parental cohabitation:

  1. Children already disadvantaged in terms of parental income and education are relatively more likely to experience this family form.

-On average, cohabiting households tend to be less well off financially than married-                couples  households

2. Children experiencing parental cohabitation are also more likely to undergo further transitions in family structure.

Gender Equality

  • On the one hand, cohabiters profess somewhat more liberal gender-role attitudes than do married people.
  • On the other hand, cohabitors do not differ substantially from married couples
  • in terms of their division of household labor.
  •  Men substantially reduce both their housework time overall and time doing “female-type” tasks specifically (e.g., preparing meals, house cleaning, washing dishes) when they enter either marriage or cohabitation. Women increase theirs under the same circumstances.
  •  One study found that only the male partner’s income, education, and employment status significantly affect the likelihood of marriage, implying asymmetry in the importance assigned to men’s and women’s economic characteristics. Another study found that the amount of time the female, but not the male, partner spends doing housework is positively associated with the odds of marriage.

Conclusion

In just a decade or so the amount of research on cohabitation in the United States has skyrocketed. Given the prevalence of cohabitation, that blacks and whites are about equally likely to cohabit, and that large proportions of cohabitors go on to marry their partners, it is clearly important to examine the factors that predict marriage among cohabiting couples to attempt to explain racial differences in marriage. Cohabitation indicates how family life in the United States is being transformed, some argue radically, with legal marriage losing its primacy as the manifest center of family ties.

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