cohabitation

cohabitation

Cohabitation is NOT the Same as Marriage

cohabitation, marriage, media 3 comments

The media got it wrong again. A well-conducted study by Sarah Mernitz and Claire Kamp Dush of Ohio State University shows that transitions into relationships, especially direct marriage, alleviate emotional distress. But reporters cherry-picked data to claim the study shows that cohabitation is no different from marriage. This is false.

Four findings from this study, which does the best it can with rather limited measures, were not reported by mainline media:

  1. Not surprisingly, transitions into all romantic unions give an “emotional lift” (Note that an “emotional lift” is not the same as love—a distinction the authors fail to make).
  2. Marriage gives bigger emotional lifts.
  3. Both men and women gain significant emotional lifts; sometimes the women more than the men, sometimes the men more than the women.
  4. All romantic unions gain an emotional lift from having a baby – sometimes for the fathers more than the mothers. 

Bottom lines: 

  1. Marriage is best if you are looking for an emotional lift.  
  2. Newborns give an emotional lift, especially with second partners. 
  3. The poor need lots of help: no relationship seems to relieve their distress. 

Most disturbing is the plight of the poor.  We know from many other studies that many of the poor (if not most) come from a long line of alienated parents, grandparents and great-grandparents.  We need geniuses or saints to show us how to help them.

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There are two important methodological considerations to accurately interpret this study. First, it focuses on relationship transitions. It measures mental health at the initiation of a new relationship (cohabitation, direct marriage, or marriage after cohabiting), and does not indicate the long-term stability or well-being of relationship types. Second, Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study evaluates emotional distress only, and does not give a holistic assessment of well-being or relationship quality.

Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s research shows that women benefit emotionally more than men when transitioning into any type of first union relationship; however, women benefit more from marriage and most from a direct marriage. This finding is not surprising. New relationships–no matter what the type–tend to be fun and exciting, thereby reducing emotional distress.

Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study also confirms the emotional lift gained by having children. For men transitioning into their first romantic union (cohabiting or direct marriage), having a child has a stronger emotional impact than having full time employment or a college degree. Women who enter a cohabiting relationship or first marriage also experience an emotional lift from childbearing. Interestingly, the sex differences are flipped for individuals in their second union. For women entering a cohabiting relationship, having a child decreases emotional distress more than having full time employment or a college degree. Women who enter a direct marriage or marry after cohabiting also reap significant benefits from having a child. Although males in their second union also obtain emotional benefits from having a child, their emotional benefits are not as significant as women’s.

Interestingly, this study raises some important considerations for poorer communities (as indicated by those with less than a high school degree), where intact married families are rare. Poorer women experience less emotional distress when they directly enter marriage for their first romantic union, whereas poorer men experience less distress when cohabiting. For second romantic unions, both men and women experience the least emotional distress if they enter a cohabiting relationship. These sentiments are problematic for the poor community. Research shows that marriage encourages economic mobility, and decreases government dependency. The anti-marriage bias of the welfare system revokes assistance for couples who marry. Therefore, the government imposes stressors for those who marry.

It is important to note that Mernitz and Kamp Dush’s study does not measure love. Love transcends emotional highs and lows and is first really tested when emotions turn sour.  Emotional status is a good indicator of temporary well-being, and has a place in examining transitions into relationships. However, for journalists and reporters to categorically declare that cohabitation is equivalent to marriage is untrue of the study and is shoddy reporting at best. Moreover it totally ignores repeated and compelling research that illustrates the superior benefits of stable marital unions.

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For those interested, what follow is a more detailed summary of the study’s findings:

For First Romantic Unions:

  • Women emotionally benefit more than men from transitioning into a relationship. 
  • Women and men both benefit the most from entering a direct marriage (compared to entering a cohabiting relationship, or entering marriage after cohabiting).

Controlling for Education

  • Across all education levels, women who enter a direct marriage experience more emotional benefits than women who transition into a cohabiting relationship or enter a marriage after cohabiting. There is one exception: women with more than a college degree have the best health benefits when they enter a marriage after cohabiting.
  • Men follow less of a pattern: men with less than a high school degree benefit the most from entering a cohabiting relationship; those with some college benefit most from transitioning into marriage from cohabitation; those with a college degree benefit the most from entering a cohabiting relationship; and men with more than a college degree benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting.

Controlling for Employment

  • Men who are unemployed, men who are employed full time, and men who had a child all emotionally benefit the most from entering into a direct marriage.
  • For women the results are more mixed: women who are unemployed emotionally benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting; women who are employed full time benefit most from entering a cohabiting relationship; and women who had a child benefit the most from entering into a cohabiting relationship.

For Second Romantic Unions:

  • Men emotionally benefit more than women from entering into a cohabiting relationship.
  • Women benefit more than men from directly marrying.
  • Men benefit more than women from marrying after cohabiting.
  • Both men and women emotionally benefit the most from marrying after cohabiting.

Controlling for Education

  • Men and women with less than a high school degree experience the least emotional distress when they enter a cohabiting relationship.
  • Women who have some college, a college degree, or more than a college degree experience the greatest emotional benefit from entering into a direct marriage (sometimes tied with marrying after cohabiting).
  • Men who have some college, a college degree, or more than a college degree experience the greatest emotional benefit from entering into a direct marriage.

Controlling for Employment

  • For women who are unemployed, entering a direct marriage produces the best emotional benefits; for women who are employed, entering a cohabiting relationship produces the best benefits.
  • For men who are unemployed, entering a direct marriage produces the best emotional outcomes; for men who are employed, marrying after cohabiting produces the best outcomes.
  • For women who had a child, entering a cohabiting relationship decreases emotional distress the most; for men who had a child marrying after cohabiting decreases emotional distress the most.

Debunking Three Cohabitation Myths

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Cohabitation does not replace marriage. Instead, it lays the groundwork for breaking up many marriages. Further, it significantly lacks the benefits of marriage. Despite this, the percentage of women who have ever cohabited has almost doubled over the past 25 years. A number of myths about cohabitation have blinded couples to its harmful realities.

Myth #1: Cohabitation is necessary to “test-drive” a marriage, and will produce stronger marriages by allowing couples to determine whether they are compatible living partners.
Fact: According to the American College of Pediatricians, cohabitation increases the risk of divorce by 50 percent, and is associated with lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence.

Couples sometimes claim that cohabiting allows them to determine whether they can tolerate their partner’s everyday habits such as not doing the dishes or picking up their dirty laundry. But this “test-drive” takes out the commitment necessary for marriage to work; it separates fidelity from love. It may speak more of distrust when trust is the foundation of all successful marriages. If dirty dishes or laundry could break up the relationship, then neither the couple’s love nor trust nor commitment is very deep.

Myth #2: Cohabitation is cost effective because it allows couples to pool their finances.
Fact: Cohabitation is financially risky, and lacks the financial benefits of marriage.

At first glance cohabitation appears financially practical: half the rent, half the utilities, maybe even half the grocery bill. But cohabitation also creates many complicated financial decisions: splitting bills between two partners with different incomes, choosing a name to put on the lease, agreeing who owns the furniture in the case of a split. Cohabitating relationships have the uncertainty of dating joined to the dependence needed for marriage—a hazardous mix.

Furthermore, cohabitation does not provide the same economic benefits found in marriage. According to MARRI research, cohabiters grow their net worth less than all other family structures. On average, cohabiting men have less stable employment histories than single and married men, and cohabiting fathers are less likely to have consistent, full-time work than are married fathers.

Myth #3: Cohabitation is a great way for busy couples to spend more time together.
Fact: The American College of Pediatricians found that cohabitation before marriage is associated with increased negative communication, couples spending less time together, and men spending more time on personal leisure.

Thus when unmarried couples live together they are less likely to go on dates and get to know one another, and more likely to go about their individual activities in each other’s presence. For many this breeds resentment and moves them further away from marriage.

Many couples see the frequency of celebrity divorces and resort to cohabitation to avoid a similar fate. Marriage has been disparaged as complicated and short-lived, while cohabitation has been exalted as simple and easy. The truth is, however, most of these divorced celebrity couples experienced an unstable marriage because they cohabited and had multiple sexual partners prior to that marriage.  In contrast to cohabitation, marriage—and reserving sex for marriage—is the best way to secure a loyal, loving, and lasting marriage.

What do NFL Abusers Have in Common?

abuse, child well-being, cohabitation, NFL No comments


Media outlets have been ringing with stories of domestic violence in the NFL: Greg Hardy, Rod Smith, Anthony Ray Jefferson, and, most recently, Ray Rice. But in its obsession with the NFL’s response to its players, the media has overlooked one growing root cause of abuse in these cases: cohabitation. Cohabitation is a breeding ground for domestic abuse against both women and children alike. And, not surprisingly, each NFL player was or had been cohabiting with the woman he beat.
This is, of course, not to blame any of these women for their abuse.  Rather, the link between cohabitation and domestic violence highlights the massive attitudinal differences between what it takes to cohabit and what it takes to marry. If the NFL wants to reduce domestic violence it will become a booster for marriage and it could do well by distributing these charts to all its NFL players and fans.
Social science data confirms this claim. One study found that cohabiting couples were more likely to face difficulties with adultery, drugs, and alcohol than couples who did not cohabit. Likewise, those couples who lived together prior to marring were more likely to exhibit marital issues like permissive sexual relationships and drug problems. Not surprisingly, therefore, cohabiting couples tend to have lower relationship quality, less stability, and more frequent and more extreme disagreements.
The frequency of abuse among cohabiting couples is especially alarming. The rate of violence among cohabiting couples is double the rate for married couples, and the rate for severe violence is almost five times as high. Cohabiters are more likely than married couple to be aggressive, and are more likely to hit, push, or throw things at their partner.
Having unmarried, cohabiting parents also poses a number of risk factors for children. Data shows that children of divorced or never-married mothers are six to 30 times more likely to suffer from serious child abuse than are children raised by their married biological parents. As the British data shows, children whose biological mother cohabits are 73 percent more likely to die from abuse than are children whose biological parents are married. We do not have analogous US data on fatalities, but we have very good federal data on rates of abuse as the other three charts show.

Many support cohabitation as a means to “test drive” a potential marriage. However, far from strengthening future marriages, cohabitation produces risk factors for a slew of marital problems like drinking, fighting, and violence. It’d be best if people stick to watching NFL players for their football skills, and take relationship advice from the experts.

Marital Intentions in Decline

cohabitation, family, intentions, MARRI, marriage, sexuality No comments

By: Patrick Fagan, MARRI Senior Fellow
      Avery Pettway, MARRI Intern

Jonathan Vespa’s study, “Historical Trends in the Marital Intentions of One-Time and Serial Cohabitors,” just published in February’s Journal of Marriage and Family, confirms what many sense: that among current child-bearing aged women attitudes towards marriage have shifted downwards, mainly through the influence of cohabitation, which is increasingly serial.

Vespa finds two compounding associations within present cohabitation trends.

  1. The downward trend in marital intentions holds steady and is significant even when controlling for serial cohabitation.
  2. There is an additional negative association between serial cohabitation and decreased marital intentions. Serial cohabitants (a rising percentage of ever-cohabited women) are less likely to enter a cohabiting relationship with plans to marry (to varying degrees, dependent on whether it is the first, second, or third union) than are one-time cohabitants. 

In short, a woman in today’s world entering a cohabiting relationship is less likely to have marital intent, and she is even still more less-likely to have marital intent if she is a serial cohabitant.

Cohabitation used to be an intentional (though relatively uncommon) stepping stone to marriage for women who engaged in it but that switched with women who were born between 1963 and 1967, and the pattern has continued unwaveringly since then.

Bottom line:  There is more of a disconnect between sexual intercourse, cohabitation and marriage.  Cohabitation is increasingly accepted as an independent entity, and choosing it has nothing to do with expecting marriage or choosing marriage.

Vespa’s study reveals that compared to women in the youngest cohort (born between 1978 and 1982), women in the oldest cohort (born between 1958 and 1962) had odds of having marital intentions that were 1.40 times higher. Such data suggests that America’s cultural assumption that marriage is sexuality’s end goal is dwindling more and more.

This obviously threatens the health (and rate) of marriage and the institution of the family’s person-forming power. As serial cohabitation rises, marital intentions decrease, and the two compound to push marriage even further into the recesses of the American mind, the stable familial space in which children have been consistently and healthily formed for generations will continue to weaken and with it the future America will be similarly weakened.  As we are seeing (and as, I predict, we will continue to see), what plagues the family plagues the other foundational social institutions of Church, School, Marketplace, and Government. As marriage becomes more of a mental side note to our sexual practices, relational instability will continue to increase first in the family, followed later by relational instability in the other institutions (as the child grows into them as an adult).

Vespa isolated the increasing disconnect between sexual union and marriage.  The country has yet to feel anxious about its effects on the children, their education, the economy and the capacity of our country to govern itself.

The State of a Woman’s Union

abstinence, Christianity, cohabitation, feminism, intact family, marriage, religion, sexuality, teen pregnancy, women's health No comments

By Lindsay Smith, Intern
 

Dear Florida,

I heard that you are spending $45,000to research women’s sexuality within your borders.  Apparently, this information is quite valuable to you.  I know you are offering gift cards if women will complete surveys on this topic.  Good news, I think I can provide you with some answers to your search – no gift card necessary. 

Abundant research has shown that disruption within a family structure increases the likelihood of sexual debut for children. “Women whose parents separated during childhood are more likely to have an out-of-wedlock teenage pregnancy, and men with divorced or separated parents are more likely to father a child with a teenage mother.”  As expected, women from intact-married families have the lowest risk of teenage sexual debut, and fewer partners.  Marriage positively affects not only the children, but also the man and woman in the union.  Since your survey touches on a woman’s emotional well-being in relation to sex, you really should know that married couples find their sexual relationship more satisfying than cohabiters do.”

Based on your survey’s questions, I see you are curious about religious affiliation.  You were wise to ask.  According to MARRI’s publication “The Benefits of Religious Worship,” females who attend religious worship weekly are less likely than their peers to sexually debut as a teen, have a premarital pregnancy, or abort their first pregnancy. The Christian abstinence program “True Love Waits” produces similar effects for its participants.  The American Journal of Sociology’s article “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse” reports that, on average, pledging decreases the risk of sexual debut even for those in a dating relationship. 

Combining regular worship attendance with an always-intact family bolsters these effects.  As seen in diagrams here, hereand here, MARRI research verifies that teens attending weekly worship with an always-intact family are least likely to sexually debut as a teen or have a premarital pregnancy. 

Florida, you mentioned your hope “to design the state’s service offerings, including pamphlets and counseling,” based on the survey’s findings. How about offering marriage counseling to strengthen families?  What if your pamphlets included the benefits of an abstinence pledge? 

Well, I hope this letter has helped.  In case you find the survey a bit superfluous now, it is almost Christmas, and gift cards make great gifts.

Marriage: “I Do,” Not “Maybe You’ll Do”

Christianity, cohabitation, culture, divorce, marriage No comments

By Sharon Barrett, Intern

I love having theological discussions with a particular friend of mine. One topic we explore frequently is the nature of human relationships, particularly marriage. Why does the Creator place such a premium on marriage? Why does He insist that a man and woman make a public commitment to each other before they live together as husband and wife? What is so special about declaring, “I do”?

Of course, social science research supports the importance of faithful married love. Couples who are married rather than single or cohabiting report better health, less stress and depression, and more positive family relationships; they are less likely to suffer or commit domestic violence; and they are more likely to pursue a regular spiritual life. Married couples even enjoy greater sexual fulfillment than cohabiting couples.

One might think a cohabiting relationship would carry benefits similar to marriage, if the partners are committed to each other; but the truth is that most couples who cohabit are notfully committed. This type of relationship tends to value independence more than interdependence; for instance, cohabiting partners often have separate bank accounts. As these couples proceed toward marriage, only 60% end up at the altar, and they are 46% more likely to divorce than those who marry without cohabiting first.

Those who do not meet at the altar have only a ten percent chance of staying together longer than five years. This statistic reflects the fact that most couples who cohabit do so to “test their compatibility” before they commit for life. In the words of one young woman,

“We liked to be together, so it was cheaper and more convenient. It was a quick decision but if it didn’t work out there was a quick exit.”

In fact, nearly half of 20-somethings surveyed in 2001 by the National Marriage Project agreed with the statement, “You would only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first, so that you could find out whether you really get along.” Clinical psychologist Meg Jay concludes,

A life built on top of “maybe you’ll do” simply may not feel as dedicated as a life built on top of the “we do” of commitment [of] marriage.

Commitment is a key ingredient of marriage that cohabiting relationships often cannot achieve. Standing before the altar to say “I do” has a profound effect on how partners approach a relationship; it takes courage to make one’s commitment public and, by implication, invite other members of the community to hold one accountable. It takes courage to offer one’s whole life to a partner, with no guarantee other than that person’s word that he or she will be faithful. Most of all, it takes courage for a fallible human being to make a vow in God’s hearing, trusting in His saving help to fulfill it.

But that is the nature of marriage, this most intimate of human relationships. Partaking in a commitment that transcends our natural abilities, while it may seem intimidating, is actually designed to strengthen our faith. According to the Bible, faith is a decision to be confident in God’s promises (Heb. 10:35-11:6); and the promises of the Great I AM are never “yes and no,” but always “yes” (2 Cor. 1:20) –never “maybe,” but always “I do.”

Prejudice, or Unstable Partnerships? What Same-Sex Households Offer Children

cohabitation, marriage, prejudice, same-sex parenting studies No comments

Sharon Barrett, Intern

 
Mark Regnerus’s June 2012 New Family Structures Study (NFSS) came under fire as soon as it was published. Even after a private consultant confirmed Regnerus’s methodology was acceptable, critics continue to hurl accusations.  
One such accusation is aimed not so much at Regnerus as at the rest of us. Some critics argue the NFSS found negative outcomes among children raised by parents in same-sex relationships because social prejudice against these couples affects their children. If we allow gay couples to marry – so the argument runs – they will raise children with positive outcomes.
Here’s the problem: if a relationship is unstable, recognizing it with a civil or religious ceremony is not going to make it more stable.
The small, non-representative sample groups in previous same-sex parenting studies contained same-sex couples whose profile predicted child success: educated, relatively well-off, non-minority, and – most important –  a long-term monogamous couple. By contrast, the NFSS’s random sample of a broad population found that many same-sex households are among minorities and poor families, who are less likely to marry and more likely to divorce.
In fact, most households where a child has lived for some period of time with a parent and the parent’s same-sex partner were created after the breakup of a heterosexual relationship. Like heterosexual cohabiting households created in the aftermath of a divorce, extramarital affair, or previous relationship, such households are inherently unstable, as Peter Sprigg of FRC notes:
The fact that only two of over two hundred children [in the NFSS] with a parent who had a same-sex relationship lived with that parent and his or her partner from birth to age 18 shows how extraordinarily rare “stable gay relationships” really are.
Regnerus’s study, as even his critics acknowledge, pinpoints a crucial factor in child success: household stability. Now, even a heterosexual household can’t guarantee stability. So why should we continue to define marriage using the man-woman model?
Here’s one reason (among many). Man-woman marriage is built on a peculiar other-centeredness; it demands that two people who are polar opposites learn to live together. Paradoxically, this tension helps create stability. By nature, a same-sex relationship lacks this tension, which may explain why researchers in Sweden found male same-sex couples 35% more likely to divorce than heterosexual couples – and lesbian couples up to 200% more likely!
Instability, not prejudice, is to blame for the negative outcomes experienced by NFSS respondents. Unfortunately, the average same-sex household is unlikely to provide the stability children need – even when all other factors are equal.

Cohabitation

cohabitation, family, marriage, religion No comments
MARRI Interns
It is vexing professional conduct for a researcher to rigorously investigate the nuances of a social phenomenon and then disregard those well-established facts when offering a prescription.  Yet it was exactly that inexplicable approach to the social sciences that was on full display on the New York Times editorial page last weekend.  In an op-ed entitled “The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage,” clinical psychologist Meg Jay simultaneously displays both a firm knowledge of the effects of cohabiting and an inability to proscribe it. 
The title of the op-ed is itself revelatory of the fact that it is the downside of cohabitation that is newsworthy, since the popular presumption is that cohabitation is either neutral or desirable, but the research explodes these unreflective and unexamined presuppositions.  That research demonstrates that cohabitation is almost unexceptionally harmful for successful, stable marriages and families, as Ms. Jay argues in her op-ed. 
Yet the primary and glaring flaw of this article is its vacillation at the time of offering a prescription to this entrenched problem.  This vacillation is both wanton and willful; the author, preferring defeatist resignation to bold, consistent remedy, demurs that “cohabitation is here to stay.”  That a Slate.com columnist can flippantly generalize that “everyone lives together now before getting married” is understandable, but that a professional relational advisor can express such ideas is borderline insulting to those clients of hers that she has relegated to such irresponsibility.  (Parenthetically, it must be noted that the Slate article is patently wrong when it argues that “the cohabitation effect” which holds that cohabiting couples are less satisfied with marriages has disappeared; research as recent as the 2000s suggests that it still holds true.)  On the contrary, rates of cohabitation correlate with specific behavioral practices; for example, MARRI research shows that only 27.1% of women from intact marriages who worship weekly cohabit before marriage. 
Refusal of commitment is the essence of cohabitation; it is therefore incomprehensible to suggest that cohabitation be somehow reinterpreted to be a “pre-marriage” arrangement.  A far superior prescription that is consistent with the evidence is that clinicians and counselors advise their clients to forego cohabitation and make the real commitment of getting married.

Marriage Still Stands

cohabitation, divorce, marriage No comments
Obed Bazikian, Intern
The Associated Press (AP) wrote an article in the Christian Science Monitor entitled, “Cohabitation before marriage? It’s no greater divorce risk.”  The article used a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, part of the US National Institute of Health, which sought to discover “trends and group differences” between marital statuses of those aged 15 to 44 years. When analyzing the AP article to the actual study, the article turns out to be rather misleading.
The title the AP used implies that divorce is not more likely for those who cohabitated before marriage than for those who maintained chastity. However, when going to the CDC study itself, this statement is found false. The study examined marriage survival of men and women in 5-year intervals from 5 to 20 years. In every interval, those who did not cohabitate with their future spouse had a greater chance of marriage survival than those who did cohabitate. The probability between these categories is often close in comparison, but the title blatantly misrepresents the facts. It would have been accurate to claim that in some of the year intervals, the difference was statistically insignificant. The study even specifies, “Looking at 20 years duration, women who had never cohabited with their first husband before marriage had a higher probability of marriage survival (57%), compared with women who had cohabited with their first spouse before marriage.”
There are more examples than just comparing the title, and discerning readers should examine both texts. This is yet another example of the media attempting to alter our culture’s perception of marriage, and to make cohabitation more palatable. However, even with their quoted data, marriage still stands. For further critique of the AP’s paper, check out Glenn Stanton’s article in National Review magazine. Also, for numerous publications and research that support marriage, please visit the Marriage and Religion Research’s website.

Individualism in Marriage

children, cohabitation, marriage, social institutions No comments
MARRI Interns
An increasingly disturbing trend in Americatoday is the growing emphasis and view that marriage is about personal and mutual fulfillment with no essential link to children. Much of this mindset is synonymous with a more individualistic outlook on life. Mercatornet describes the typical individual as believing that marriage is “being there for the other person and helping them when they’re down, helping them get through tough times, cheering them up when they’re sad.” Ricky says, “You know, just pretty much improving each other’s lives together.” In other words, marriage is about mutual help and companionship.
 
While part of marriage is in fact about relationship between two individuals, this definition leaves out the emphasis on children. Mercatornet further foundthat “young adults’ belief in marriage as commitment and permanence comes with an asterisk: so long as both spouses are happy and love each other.” The growing idea that marriage is simply a union between two people to make each other happy is incomplete. According to Amber and David Lapp, marriage is about something more than simply two separate individuals coming together.
 
According to the Survey of Consumer Finance, the net worth of cohabitating families with children was only $16,540, as opposed $120,250 for intact families (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).In addition, according to Robert Whelan, Broken Homes and Broken Children, children living in cohabiting homes are also 33 times more likely to suffer serious child abuse than children living with their biological parents (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).
 
If marriage could not possibly result in children, then it would be fine for individuals to only consider themselves in their future. However, that is clearly not the case. Marriage is not simply the union of two consenting individuals as long as they remain happy; marriage is a lasting bond and commitment that not only includes the man and the woman, but also the children, who together define the family.