Less Marriage, Less Divorce, More Cohabitation

I’ve been saying for years that we as a culture must figure out a way to make divorce less common, or less painful, or both. As you know, I work on the second goal. Now yesterday’s and today’s news is full of reports of the finding that we Americans have taken the first goal into our own hands. We marry less, divorce less, and cohabit more than we did 35 years ago.

The report that’s generating all this attention is called The State of Our Unions 2005, from Rutgers University. The ressearchers simply analyzed U.S. Census and other data and looked at the change from 1970 to more recent times.

The divorce rate has dropped slightly, from 22.6 per 1,000 married women in 1980 to 17.7 in 2004. The marriage rate has dropped more dramatically, from 76.5 per 1,000 unmarried women in 1970 to 39.9 per 1,000 married women in 2004. Now get this, the rate of cohabiting couples has increased by 1,200 percent since 1960, from 439,000 in 1960 to more than 5 million today.

The risk is not great to the men who are making these decisions. The risk falls on the women and on their children, because 40% of cohabitating households have children, and cohabitating partners are less likely to stay together than married partners.

This trend is a long-term negative trend for women, at least as long as women tend to be the ones who perform most of the household duties. Women have always been more likely than men to sacrifice their career to focus on children and household duties.

But now, without the protection of marriage laws on division of property and spousal support, those women and their children will be the most at risk if and when the relationships break up. Sure, the fathers will (usually) pay child support, but the women and their children in general will have a lower standard of living than they would if they had married. They will be less likely to enjoy division of marital property, including retirement plans, and they will be less likely to receive spousal support.

2 thoughts on “Less Marriage, Less Divorce, More Cohabitation”

  1. Dear Editors:
    I am currently collecting data for my graduate thesis and I am looking at the communication patterns of cohabiting couples. I would love to let your audience know about this study and provide a link to my voluntary and anonymous survey. I need many more participants!!! I am forwarding the following information. If you are able to post this on your website or post a message to your listserv or blog to encourage others to participate, I would really appreciate it!

    (Please forward this message to everyone you know.)

    Are you living together and unmarried?

    Is someone you know living together and unmarried?

    I am writing to request your help. My name is Melissa O’Dell and I am a graduate student at Central Michigan University (CMU). I am currently collecting data for my graduate thesis. The title of my thesis is “Communication in Cohabiting Relationships”.

    If you are currently living with a romantic partner, you can provide crucial information about cohabiting relationships. Please consider participating in this research study by filling out a voluntary and anonymous survey located at the following URL: http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=949441233079. This survey will not ask for any financial or personally identifying information.

    If you are married, single, or not currently cohabiting (i.e., “living with”) a romantic partner, please forward this message to other people you know that might be able to participate.

    The survey will ask about your relationship and the communication that occurs with your romantic partner. Some questions also ask you about ways in which you try to influence other people.

    Completion of the survey will take approximately 10 to 15 minutes of your time. The survey has been approved by the CMU Institutional Review Board and you will be provided with a consent form when you go to the website.

    Again, if you are unmarried and living together, please go to http://www.surveymonkey.com/s.asp?u=949441233079 to complete this survey. Thank you very much.


    Melissa O’Dell

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