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Cohabitation: Divorce versus Marriage

Nowadays the problem of marriage and divorce is an issue of the day in the United States. Having studied the institution of marriage, American sociologists suggest that American couples divorce four times more often than British and seven times more often than Italian couples. Sociology studies aim at finding out the causes if such sociological processes and to set regularities of this effect. Some people suppose that cohabitation helps to avoid divorce and consolidate marriage. However, every sociologist has not got the same opinion. The main task of this research is to answer the question whether cohabitation strengthens marriage or causes divorce. The phenomenon of cohabitation and its impact on divorce and marriage processes are carefully analyzed. The most famous research works of scientists are compared and analyzed.

Literature Review: The Marriage Go-Round by Andrew Cherlin

Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and community politics, studied out these questions. According to his book The Marriage-Go-Round, there are two main contradictions in American marriage: the desire to create a strong family and individualism caused by selfishness. He gives an explanation for this phenomenon: “People in USA get married considerably more often and earlier than in Europe. As a result, they divorce more often. Then they find other partners. Consequently, we partner, unpartner, and repartner” (Cherlin, 2010).

In his book Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage Cherlin claims that “the increase in cohabitation (living together) might indicate a weakening of our system of marriage and family life” (Cherlin, 1992). Cherlin found out that most young people, the generation of the third war, would prefer to live together with the partner before marriage:

According to NSFH, just 11 percent of persons who married between 1965 and 1974 cohabitated with someone beforehand, compared to 32 percent of those, who married between 1975 and 1979, and 44 percent of those who married between 1980 and 1984. (Cherlin, 1992)

Nevertheless, the sociologist believes that most of cohabits are sure to get married with their partner. Thus, Andrew Cherlin supports the idea that cohabitation can help.

Living Together Unmarried in the United States

According to Smock and Manning (2003), “although most Americans still marry at some point and the vast majority expresses strong desires to marry, unmarried cohabitation has dramatically transformed the marriage process. Today, the majority of marriages and remarriages begin as cohabiting relationships.”. In the research, the data about the increasing amount of cohabitors of all groups is indicated as the usual demographic phenomenon. The marriages are postponed more often until the time when cohabitation has increased. 50 percent of cohabiting couples end with marriage. So, although marriages are less frequent, a half of cohabitations became marriages.

Impact on Children

Bumpass and Lu (2000) found , that cohabitation and unmarried childbearing have come into family life for the most families of Western communities, including the United States of America. To sum up, from the suggestions of Bumpass and Lu, it is clear that their attitude towards cohabitation is negative. The sociologist supposes that cohabitations make the role of the family as an important social institute less valuable. As cohabitation is dynamically increasing, the meaning of marriage as a life direction and irreplaceable part of individual’s life is decreasing. According to Bumpass and Lu (2000), the amount of children brought up in cohabitional families is increasing, so children can treat cohabitation as a habitual state , which can provoke their desire to stay unmarried. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, more than 12 thousand of women and more than 10 thousand of men confirm that divorces and cohabitation are connected.

Wandy Manning’s opinion

According to Manning (2001), “What is perhaps less understood about cohabitation is that it has increasingly become a setting for family formation. Cohabiting unions with children present are arguably one of the fastest-growing family forms in the United States.”

The Role of Cohabitation in Family Formation

The prevalence of non-marital cohabitation in the USA is increasing. Moreover, cohabitating is turned into a form of family life. The attitude towards family formation among population of the USA has changed since 1960. Recently, unmarried unions have not had huge attention. Some people interpret cohabiting as a prelude to marriage: “This is a simple inversion in the timing of two events (cohabitation and marriage) – or as an alternative to marriage – that is a decision not to marry” (Heuveline & Timberlake, 2004).

Why Cohabit?

In order to find out how cohabitation influences marriage, it is necessary to find out the reasons making people cohabit. According to Rose-Greenland and Smock (2013), “some responders explained that moving in together made sense from a logistical or financial point of view, and that these reasons, as much or more as love and romance change the factors in their decision to cohabitate.” Some people say, that their cohabitation was based on “convenience and common sense” (Rose-Greenland & Smock, 2013) These data indicate that cohabition is held not only to create a family, but also to make life more convenient. Thus, cohabitation may be a way to get some individual benefits from a relationship with another person.

Children of Unmarried Couples

A proportion of children whose mothers are unmarried and romantically involved in relationships with children’s fathers has risen. According to Osborne (2005), “approximately one third of all children are born to unmarried mothers, yet many of these women are not living alone.” The researches prove that couples who are unmarried are less stable and children raised in such families are more likely to have low income and low social and intellectual development (McLanahan & Sandefur, 1994). So, cohabitation causes bad consequences for children, which does not contribute towards strengthening of the marriage institution.

Conclusion

In the literature review, different points of view on the problem of cohabitation’s impact on marriage and divorce were discussed. Andrew Cherlin’s opinion is that marriages are postponed more regularly while the rate of cohabitation is rising. Still, 50 percent of cohabits are “prelude” to marriages. That leads some scholars to conclude that cohabitation can-not destroy marriage. Bumpass and Lu , the researchers of cohabitation and unmarried childbearing, are negative about cohabitating. It is caused by reduction of value of marriage as cohabitating is getting more and more popular. Children brought up in unmarried couples may follow their parents’ example and prefer living together to getting married. Heuveline and Timberlake insist that cohabitation has become a kind of family formation. Rose-Greenland and Smock confirm that living together does not always aim at creating a new family, but rather at making life in a couple more convenient. So love and romance may be equal to practical benefits, and cohabitation neither strengthens, nor weakens marriage. Osborne supposes that children raised in families where the mother is not married to the father have less chances to become rich, to get high academic degree and develop socially. So, living together without marriage causes disappointing results and should be abated as much, as possible.

The aim of the research is a careful analysis and comparison of different opinions of sociologists on the dilemma: “Do couples who live together before marriage have a higher success rate in marriage?” The answer to the question is still unknown, because on the one hand cohabitation may become a confirmation and may demonstrate that people are “made for each other”; on the other hand, people can easily break up any time because they are not connected by marriage or children. It is necessary to take into consideration not only scientists’ professional view but also personal beliefs which may influence the answer. This is a complicated problem demanding long-term thinking and new research.

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