Cohabitation study - Feb 4, 2000
Tue Feb 8 19:59:56 EST 2000
from: Smart Marriages
Barbara Markey will present a luncheon keynote on Cohabitation
at the Smart Marriages Denver conference.
Living together: facts, myths, about "living in sin" studied
ANN ARBOR (February 4, 2000)---
Living together has gone from being a relatively rare situation to nearly
the norm in the United States, according to a University of Michigan
The percentage of marriages preceded by cohabitation rose from about 10
percent in 1965 to over 50 percent by 1994, according to Pamela J. Smock
sociologist at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR), the world's
largest academic survey and research organization.
And the percentage of women in their late 30s who said that they had
cohabited at least once reached 48 percent in 1995.
"This is quite a striking shift," says Smock. "My sense is that the
public and many social scientists seriously underestimate both the
prevalence and the significance of cohabitation in changing the life
of individuals and the general contours of the American family."
Smock is the author of an article on cohabitation in the United States to
published in the 2000 volume of the Annual Review of Sociology . In the
article, she reviews, interprets, and synthesizes the latest social
research on cohabitation, and offers explanations for the dramatic
in a practice that was considered socially unacceptable just 30 years ago.
For most couples, she points out, cohabitation tends to be fairly
short-lived. "The most recent estimates suggest that about 55 percent of
cohabiting couples marry and 40 percent end the relationship within five
years," she says. "Only about one-sixth of cohabitations last at least
years and only one-tenth last five years or more."
Contrary to the popular image that living together is about nothing but
lust, cohabitation often includes taking care of, not just making,
"About one-half of previously married cohabitors and 35 percent of
never-married cohabitors have children in the household," says Smock. "In
about 70 percent of the cases, these are the children of only one partner.
The rest of the time, they are the biological offspring of the couple. In
fact, about 40 percent of children born to supposedly 'single' mothers
are actually born into two-parent, cohabiting households. And about
two-fifths of all children in America spend some time living with their
mother and a cohabiting partner."
Research confirms the common impression that there are differences between
people who cohabit and those who don't, according to Smock. On average,
their socioeconomic status tends to be slightly lower, they tend to be
slightly less religious and they tend to be slightly more liberal and
supportive of egalitarian, non-traditional gender and family roles. "But
these differences are minor," she notes. "Cohabitation is now common among
all groups of people."
While common sense suggests that premarital cohabitation should offer
couples an opportunity to learn about each other, increasing their chances
for a successful marriage, the evidence suggests just the opposite, Smock
finds. "Premarital cohabitation tends to be associated with lower marital
quality and increased risk of divorce," she says.
In recent years, many patterns of cohabitation seem to be changing, Smock
says. "Lower proportions of cohabiting couples are marrying and more are
breaking up," she notes. "Women in the 90s were more likely than women in
the 80s to cohabit rather than marry in response to pregnancy. Together,
these trends suggests that cohabitation is becoming more a substitute for
marriage, rather than a form of engagement that culminates in marriage."
As major changes in the American family continue, Smock believes that it
time to bring the complexity of contemporary living arrangements into the
public discourse. "Discussing family structure primarily in terms of
status can seriously distort our understanding," she notes. "For example,
almost one-half of all stepfamilies involve a biological parent and his
more typically, her, cohabiting partner.
"The prevalence of cohabitation, and of the presence of children in
cohabiting unions, indicates how family life in the United States is being
transformed, with legal marriage losing its primacy as the manifest center
of family ties."
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