21 Aug Joyriding into Marriage
From the Desk of Laura Bunker:
“We don’t feel the need to rush to the altar. This is the real world and marriage isn’t a necessity.”
This was the statement of one mother who is ironically waiting to be “more financially prepared” before she gets married–yet she and her partner are having children together. She is not alone. New research shows a “baby frenzy” happening among cohabiting couples–that births among “cohabiting unions jumped to 58 percent of all nonmarital births during the period 2006 to 2010.”
Sadly, decades of research tell us that cohabitation is devastating for both children and adults. In fact, living with one’s mother and her live-in boyfriend is one of the most dangerous places in the world for a child.
Marriage not a necessity? We invite you to decide for yourself, by reading today’s excellent alert by UFI Intern Erika Walker, and the accompanying research below. Then share this important information with someone you care about. For their own sake, and for the sake of children yet unborn, today’s young adults need to understand the truth about cohabitation.
United Families International, President
Don’t Joyride Your Way Into Marriage
By Erika Walker
My husband and I went on a cruise for our honeymoon. One night at dinner, we met another young couple, Alex and Jenna, and we quickly became friends. We told them that we had just gotten married and the conversation quickly turned to a history of our relationships; where we had met our significant other, how long we’d been together, etc.
Jenna and Alex told us that they had been dating for two years and I made the comment that two years was a long relationship. They explained that they had talked about marriage, but both wanted to finish their educations first. After they graduated they planned to move in together “to make sure it will work before we make that serious of a commitment”.
Alex and Jenna’s relationship progression is very typical of many relationships today. Couples in our generation who have experienced first-hand the effects of divorce are now cohabiting before marriage to avoid the risk of divorce because they believe that if it doesn’t work out, breaking up is much easier. They compare cohabitation to test driving a car, using the logic that you would not buy a car without having driven it first to make sure it’s what you really want.
What they don’t understand, is that cohabitation is much more like a joyride than a test drive.
Webster’s dictionary defines “joyride” as:
“1. a fast car ride taken for pleasure; an automobile ride marked by reckless driving; especially: a ride in a stolen car.
2. conduct or action resembling a joyride especially in disregard of cost or consequences.” (1)
Notice that in both scenarios (test-driving and joyriding) it is inferred that the car is not owned by the driver; however the test drive is likely to result in ownership of the vehicle, while the joyride is not. Joyriders may retain the vehicle for an extended period of time, but they usually don’t own the car, and will therefore treat the car differently than if they had invested their own money in its purchase.
Such is the way with cohabitation. Cohabitants’ relationships may mimic that of a marriage for a time, and children may even result, but in the end, those who cohabit are not as invested in the relationship as those in a marriage.
Contrary to popular belief, cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it increases it by nearly 46%. One reason for this is that while marriage relationships are held together by a strong ethic of commitment, cohabiting relationships tend to be less dedicated to the continuation of the relationship, and more concerned with the individuals’ own personal autonomy (2).
In cohabitation, both parties go into the arrangement with an escape route, a trap-door, an understanding that if it doesn’t work out, there is an easy way out. This is problematic for two reasons: first, they expect to some degree that the relationship will fail, hence the “if” thinking. I would like to point out that these are not thoughts that newly-weds have on their wedding day. Second, they have a built in exit strategy. They are essentially going into this phase of their relationship with one foot out the door.
Although the couple might see marriage in their potential future, once you they begin a cohabiting relationship with the mentality that “if it doesn’t work out, I’ll just move out,” it’s hard to switch to the “whatever it takes, till-death-do-us-part” mentality necessary in marriage.
Many couples fail to make this mental transition and go into marriage with the same one-foot-out-the-door thinking because little else in their lives and relationship have changed since being married. This becomes more likely the longer a couple lives together before marriage, thus increasing the likelihood of divorce (3).
Another reason for this increase in divorce rates among those who cohabit is the lack of decision-making in the relationship. Many in cohabiting relationships report that “it just happened”. Couples move from dating to sleeping over, and from sleeping over a lot, to cohabitation, sometimes without even a conversation about why they want to live together or what it will mean (4).
Often times individuals go into this arrangement with very different long- term expectations, but despite their differences, find it difficult to break it off once they’ve moved in together because of the financial and emotional costs associated with a break up. They feel that they have already invested too much into the relationship, so together they stay until they eventually “slide” into marriage, only to discover a few short years later that this is not the marital relationship they wanted.
Breaking the Trend
The great paradox of cohabitation is that this arrangement that people adopt as protection against a failed marriage is actually contributing to its demise. The problem lies in fact that despite the research, the majority of young people still feel that cohabiting before marriage is the best way to avoid divorce. According to national surveys, nearly 66% of high school senior boys and 61% of the girls indicated that they “agreed” or “mostly agreed” with the statement “it is usually a good idea for a couple to live together before getting married in order to find out whether they really get along” (5).
Like Alex and Jenna, they are not aware of the higher risks associated with this relationship arrangement because they still perceive it as a test drive rather than the joyride that it is.
Young people should be taught that the relationships they wish for and think they can achieve through cohabitation are much more likely to be found in marriage. With the help of all of our United Families International readers and dedicated supporters, we can help to disseminate this information to the young people throughout the world, and teach them healthy relationship patterns that are more likely to result in stronger unions.
Erika Walker is currently a senior at Brigham Young University-Idaho working to complete her bachelor’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies. She and her husband Chris, are expecting their first child in September. As a wife and mother-to-be, she places high value on the institution of marriage, and hopes to be able to help others establish healthy marital relationships.
- “Joyride.” Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 25 May 2014. <http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/joyride>.
2. Lauer, R. H., & Lauer, J. C. (2012).Marriage & family: the quest for intimacy (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
3. Brown, S. L. (2003). Moving from cohabitation to marriage: effects on relationship quality. Social Science Research, 33, 1-19.
4. Jay, M. (2012, April 14). The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage. The New York Times. Retrieved May 20, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?pagewanted=all
5. Popenoe, D., & Whitehead, B. D. (1999).”Should We Live Together? What Young Couples Need to Know about Cohabitation Before Marriage,” National Marriage Project.
Seven Reasons Why Living Together Before Marriage is a Bad Idea:
- When childbirth occurs to cohabiting parents, even if the union remains “stable” for the next five years, the effects on early childhood health are just as deleterious as parental separation or divorce and just as deleterious as if the couple had dissolved their illicit union.
- “…cohabitors have rates of separation nearly five times as high as married couples.”
- Rates for serious abuse of children are lowest in the intact family, six times higher in stepfamilies, 14 times higher in the always-single-mother family, 20 times higher in cohabiting biological parent families, and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.
- Children who live in cohabiting households are less inclined to care about school and homework performance, and their academic performance is poorer than that of children living with their married biological parents.
- Regardless of economic and parental resources, the outcomes of adolescent in cohabiting families (two-biological parent and stepfamily) are worse, on average, than those experienced by adolescents in two-biological-parent married families.6. There is a wage premium that accrues to men who marry vs. those who never marry and just cohabit. The wage premium was more than 21 percent for married men, but just 6.5 percent for cohabiting men – relative to never-married and non-cohabiting men. In this complicated analysis, the researcher controlled for selection effects and differential wage growth.
7. After five to seven years, 39 percent of all cohabiting couples have broken their relationship, 40 percent have married (although the marriage might not have lasted), and only 21 percent are still cohabiting.
*For more information on cohabitation, go here.
1. Kammi K. Schmeer, “The Child Health Disadvantage of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 73 [February 2011]: 181–93.
2. Georgina Binstock and Arland Thornton, “Separations, Reconciliations, and Living Apart in Cohabiting and Marital Unions,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 432-443.
3. Patrick Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, “Marriage: The Safest place for Women and Children,” The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder Report no. 1535, 10 April, 2002. p. 3, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/BG1535.cfm.
4. Susan L. Brown, “Child Well-being in Cohabiting Families,” in Alan Booth and Ann C. Crouter, eds., Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 173-187. Elizabeth Thomson et al., “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources vs. Parental Behaviors,” Social Forces 73 (1994): 221-242.
5. Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 351-367.
6. Arif Mamun, “Cohabitation Premium in Men’s Earnings: Testing the Joint Human Capital Hypothesis” Journal of Family and Economic Perspectives (2011) Forthcoming.
7. Lynne N. Casper and Suzanne M. Bianchi, Continuity and Change in the American Family (Thousand Oaks,: Sage Publications, 2002).