Sunday, October 24, 2010

Shacking Up and the Divorce Rate

From Newsweek:

Moving in together before marriage used to be associated with a higher risk for divorce. But now, as more unmarried couples than ever before decide to live under the same roof, do they face the same fate?

Sociologists think the calculus may have changed. Part of the difference stems from just who’s deciding to shack up. In the late ’70s, only about a third of people lived together before tying the knot. Those people tended to be less traditional in their beliefs—it was the age of the hippie, after all—and therefore more likely to get divorced, says Pamela Smock, a sociologist at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. As cohabiting has come more common across the country, however, the once strong link between “living in sin” and divorce has weakened over time. While some religious groups, such as socially conservative Christians and Orthodox Jews, still frown upon living together before marriage, two thirds of marriages in the U.S. now start as cohabitations. “Something that used to be stigmatized is now becoming the common experience,” Smock says.

Another difference is why couples decide to live together. The ’70s-era domestic partners might have been motivated by free love. But as you might expect in an era of high unemployment and rising poverty rates, it’s often money, not romance, that prompts today’s couples to share an address. “What really stood out was the change in unemployment characteristics,” says Rose Kreider, a family demographer for the U.S. Census who analyzed recent data on the topic. In 2008, 59 percent of cohabiting couples said both partners were employed. That number fell to 49 percent in 2010. Kreider says the survey specifically asked people if they were living with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

As it turns out, money is likely to play a major role in a couple’s prospects for the future, too. Many of the cohabitations that started for economic reasons during the Great Recession are “fragile” and probably won’t result in marriage, says Wendy Manning, associate director of the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University. That’s because the lower your income, the less likely you are to move from cohabitation to marriage, research has shown. (Of course, walking down the aisle isn’t a goal for everyone) According to Manning’s and Smock’s research, even if couples with less money do end up getting married after cohabiting, they’re still more likely to get divorced.

In tough economic times, financial stress can often trump love. During the Great Depression, when cohabiting was taboo, both marriage and divorce rates dropped. “These trends had little to do with marital happiness,” says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins and the author of The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today. “People kind of stay put during an economic downturn.” Today, the divorce rate is at the lowest point since the early 1970s. Even with more Americans moving in together, the long-term decline in marriage also accelerated during the recession, according to the Census Bureau. Although the age at which people first marry is at a historic high (28 for men and 26 for women), most American couples still strive for marriage after they move in together, except during an economic downturn, Cherlin says. In other places across the world—such as the Scandinavian countries, in particular—cohabiting relationships have become a substitute for marriage. But for most Americans, “cohabitation is an acceptable but temporary arrangement,” Cherlin says. “Many cohabiting couples may now be in limbo, unable to marry and afraid to break up.”

Read the full story here.

AC

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Comments

Marriage Increases Divorce Risk!

Regardless of one’s position on living together, perhaps, before or instead of marriage, the fact is the America has become a cohabitation nation. Years of condemnation and negative research studies have had no effect on slowly the rate of cohabitation since most couples reject the guilt-laden, fear-mongering attempts to discourage their living arrangement.

Instead, most cohabiters fear a failed marriage even more than the criticism, so opt to live together despite the odds. Now over 60% of all couples who marry will cohabit first and while the rate of marriage continues to decline, the rate of cohabitation will skyrocket since 75% of high school students believe living together is worthwhile and harmless.

Additionally, many of the latest blogs and newspaper stories critical of cohabiting are either using old research, in some cases going back years or the researchers are being quoted, out of context, to substantiate the reporter’s personal bias. Regardless of the results from the studies on cohabitation, please show me one couple who falls in love, decides to cohabit but as a result of a study on the downside of cohabiting, cancel their plans. Furthermore, if you consider the decades long trend… did you know that getting married increases the possibility of getting divorced to nearly 50%. However, when was the latest time you talked to someone who was planning a wedding but called it off due to the often-quoted, well known 50% failure rate of marriage?

Like it or not, for many, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are the new family role model and cohabitation has become a viable institution for over 12 million Americans. Furthermore, if you base your anti-cohabitation opinion on concerns about children and family stability… here’s an interesting little known fact. A child born to a cohabiting couple in Sweden is more likely to grow to adulthood in the same stable home with the same unmarried parents than a child born to a married couple in America.

Cohabitation does not destabilize marriages or families… people who do not understand commitment do. The goal needs to be teaching the meaning of commitment and walking down the aisle does NOT mean commitment. Another recent study found that among newlyweds… the ones who DID walk down the aisle, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women had an affair within two years of the wedding. Obviously, for millions of newlyweds, the wedding did not increase their commitment.

The point here is that while many promote marriage as the “gold standard” for what ails American families, keep in mind that ANYONE of legal age can marry. On the other hand, I think we need to be putting more of an emphasis on building COMMITTED relationships which is something that requires lots of hard work and emotional maturity and can happen WITHOUT marriage, as evidenced by the Swedes.

Yes, let’s keep pushing for changes that range from city initiatives by the clergy to educate couples before marrying, to changes in tax laws or to elimination of no-fault divorce. At the same time, let’s work to develop a productive response to the millions of cohabiting couples who are far too often judged, condemned and ignored by society.

I think we must “re-invent” and raise our expectations of cohabitation, and our attitudes toward those who decide to live together. There is a commonly held myth that marriage means you will “live happily ever-after.” However, there is no similar assumption of cohabitation other than “it won’t last” which helps create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It’s time to take a serious and non-judgmental look at cohabitating couples of all ages and help them strengthen and sustain their relationship whether they ever plan to marry. Let’s consider finding a new approach to this reality.

Posted by: John Curtis | Oct 24, 2010 1:50:24 PM

Marriage can bring great comfort to people who enter it seriously with individuals that they respect.

Posted by: Anthony Wright | Oct 24, 2010 8:16:37 PM

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