Over the past 50 years, cohabitation has increased significantly. It has become more popular that marriage and it lengthened the transitional period between casual dating, formal engagement, and the final step of marriage. Cohabitation refers to two persons of the opposite sex living mutually without getting married (Brown and Booth 668). Many people are opting for cohabitation rather than submitting themselves into the conventional system of marriage and family. This essay focuses on analyzing cohabitation in sociological imagination. It also debunks various popular myths that surround it.
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In the Victorian times, a family and marriage were symbols of love, stability, and health. In the advent of urbanization and intermingling of diversified cultures, people have moved away from their customs towards adopting what is convenient. This looks like the latest alternative towards the formation of male and female unions. Many sociologists are seeing cohabitation as a new way of courtship (Popenoe and Barbara 17). For instance in America, the cohabitation trend seems to be expanding by the day. This should be because many children who came from divorced parents and broken families do not find marriage an alternative. Because many of them have experienced problems that come with divorce, they thirst for stable marriages and feel that they should offer their children a different form of life. Cohabitation on the other hand is more attractive than marriage. Young and single people are avoiding risks that come with marriage. Although evidence from the field of social science shows that cohabitation presents problems for the couple, more people are engaging in it than ever.
History of cohabitation
As times change so does the way of life across the globe. This has made cohabitation to be accepted because it is a change from conventional marriage. Legal and social issues have also forced people to accept it as the new alternative. In the early 20th century, people who cohabited were looked at strangely. One of the myths surrounding cohabitation was that it was a “sin” or serial monogamy (Colson). Property owners could not rent out apartments to couples who were not married. It was agreed in the past that cohabitation was one of the wrong values in society. People were often discouraged against it because it went against societal norms. It was a rare thing in 1950 and statistically, for every ten couples, only one cohabited. People looked at it strangely and did not accept it as a symbol of family life. As from the mid 1970, the ratio has increased. By 1990, out of every ten couples, five cohabited. By the beginning of the 21st century, out of ten couples, eight cohabited. This shows that as society changes so do the thinking of the people. In 1950, cohabitation was very unacceptable but today it is acceptable. This shows that cohabitation has evolved from being against norms of society to being a norm.
In 1970, those who were cohabiting were simply looked at as anti-marriage (Colson). They looked at marriage as an irrelevant thing in society and thus sought the alternative of cohabitation. Today those cohabiting say that they are anti-divorce. They fear marital problems and feel that cohabitation can protect them from getting married and the eventual divorce.
Changing Perspective on Cohabitation among youth
In 1980, the 35% of the youths posited that, cohabitation is a good thing because it helps couples to know each other before getting married (Colson). They felt that cohabitation was a way of helping them to know if they really got along well before committing themselves towards marriage. However, by 1990, the number had changed to an enormous 60% (Waite and Maggie 42). This is more than half of the number of the youths. This implies that the youth of today have shifted interest from marriage and families towards leading lives that are full of fun and financial stability.
Most young people are shrouded by the popular myth that “if you live with your wife or husband to be, chances are that you will know them better.” This myth is the one that has driven many people to cohabit. They feel that if you know your partner better before marriage, then probability of experiencing marital problems and divorce is lesser that for couples who do not cohabit. Young people of divorced parents feel that their parents divorced or separated because they had not cohabited and therefore they did not understand each other well before they got married.
Cohabitation and Change in society
In the history of many societies, cohabitation was explained by the popular myth as the “rare alternative lifestyle.” Over the years, it has evolved to be the “popular lifestyle.” Currenly, it is the “most prevalent lifestyle.” In yester years, cohabiting was termed as a “scandalous norm.” It has gone through the turbulence of changes in the societal structures like the family, marriage and now it is accepted and valued as an appropriate moral.
Cohabitation and Legal Change
Before the beginning of the seventies, cohabitation was an illegal thing in most nations. The legal myth that surrounded cohabitation was the “common law marriage myth.” Married people often felt that they had more legal rights that those who were married. In America, cohabitation underwent a legal evolution and changed to become a common law. This meant that cohabitation was accepted as long as some requirements were met. Next came performing sexual acts within the precincts of cohabitation but under consensus. In the ensuing years, contracts on couples living together were crafted and signed by those who consented. These were almost the same as prenuptial agreements. The next thing was the institutionalization of cohabiting. This implied that cohabitation was legal just like people bound by traditional marriage. At this point, cohabitation became a moral rather than an immoral thing as seen in the past. In the United Kingdom, cohabiting is not yet legal. However, many people hold the belief that those couples cohabiting have the same legal rights that those who do not cohabit. America as a world leader in legal and social changes may influence the legalization of cohabitation in other nations for instance the United Kingdom. In countries like Denmark and the Netherlands, cohabitation is legal just like common law marriage (Waite and Kara 17).
Who is engaged in Cohabiting?
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey that was conducted in 2000, about a third of the population has been involved in cohabiting relationship (Colson). The highest numbers of people who engage in cohabiting are those that are from a low socioeconomic status. Women prefer cohabiting because of “unattached” material gain. Most of them are youths who are aged between 18 and 30.
Reasons for Cohabiting
There is a popular myth that when people get married, they have to pool their resources especially finances. In marriage, the myth concerning finances and decision-making is that men will make the final decision. This makes women, who are financially stable, are in favor of cohabiting more than marriage because it allows them to enjoy their freedom. These people want to live a good life in and due to hard financial times, they will stay together, share the bills, and make life comfortable for each other.
Cohabiting couples have a poor educational background. They could be high school or college dropouts who opted to look for the poorly paying jobs to survive. The demand for a good life makes them to cohabit so that they can share responsibilities. On the contrary, women in cohabiting relationships want to further their careers, delay childbirth, and family responsibilities. They want to be financially stable and in well-paying jobs before settling for marriage with the “right partner.” It is significant to note that the medical “extension” of childbearing ages and birth control methods have made women to defer marriage and childbirth (Popenoe and Barbara 17).
Attitudes towards Relationships
The attitude towards relationships could be a key factor when opting for cohabitation. The popular myth that surrounds marriage is that the certificate that makes it legal “is just but a paper.” This implies that although legal, marriage is like any other relationship and legalization does not lessen the marital problems. Many couples who cohabit feel that in any way, a relationship is a relationship and all of them have problems. Cohabiting couples feel that they are under experiment and may find the “perfect partner” before engaging in marriage (Waite and Maggie 11). They feel that if they break up, before getting married, it is better than divorcing and the hassles involved. This makes cohabitation to be the best legal option. It is important to note that those who cohabit may not be interested in getting married or may cohabit before getting married. Others cohabit so that they prepare themselves for marriage.
In America, a third of the cohabiting couples come from families where parents divorced. They felt that subjecting their children through the same life is unfair. This is why they op to divoorce so that they know each other better before marrying. Recent statistics have shown that divorce rates in African Americans are the highest in the world. This means that the likelihood of African American youths divorcing is equally high. This makes them to have the “only” alternative of cohabiting. This partially explains why cohabitation is on the rise.
High Cost of Weddings, Family, and Children
Modernity forces many people to lead “show of” lives. Many people who intend to get married want to do so but with expensive weddings. A “proper wedding” and the ensuing expenses has made many people to delay their marriages. They opt to stay together as they look for funds for getting married. Cohabiting couples tend to avoid the expenses of running a family and raising children. They want to have fun and live large although many of them would want to get married.
Increase in Secularism in society
The society is increasing becoming secular. Many people do not adhere to their traditional religions and the moral values that come with them. They believe that they are not bound by their traditions. Secular factors like feminism, heterosexual relationships, the scandals acing the Catholic Church, and the declining role of religion on the public life of people have played a great role in increasing the rates of cohabitation at the expense of marriage. Socially, many people are opposed to the legalization of gays and lesbians. Gay and lesbian couples cohabit because their marriage is not socially accepted. Although statistics have shown that divorce rates are on the decline, this could be attributed to the fact that few people are getting married and the majority is cohabiting. This shows that the role of a stable family as a symbol of union in society is constantly under threat.
Problems associated with cohabitation
Sociologists are often interested in the issue of cohabitation. They also analyze how it affects society and the social institution of marriage and family. According to Linda Waite, a leading sociologist at the University of Chicago, couples who cohabit lack commitment and specialization. These couples often divorce if they get married (Waite and Maggie 51). The popular myth surrounding cohabitation is that “couples who cohabited know each other better and will have happy marriages” does not apply in the institution of marriage. A recent study showed that cohabiting couples, who chose to get married, were not happy. Although cohabitation helps people to know each other more before marriage, this does not lead to marital satisfaction if this couple gets married. Married couples have got a higher level of marital satisfaction that cohabiting couples (Brown and Booth 669). They will compromise so that their marriages can work. This makes them to try to accommodate each other’s needs. A couple that is cohabiting usually lives in different apartments. In case of any problem, breaking up is very easy. On the contrary, a married couple lives together and incase of a marital problem, they will try to resolve it. This is berceuse getting a new house, car, job and overall relocation is expensive and hard. This forces them to accommodate each other’s weaknesses and in the end, they bring up strong families (Waite and Kara 96).
Waite and Kara say that although women in cohabiting relationships fear collective financial decisions, married women make more money them (88). People who are not married pay more tax because their incomes are taxed separately. This means that their financial burden is greater than those couples who are in legal marriages. The length of cohabitation among couples differs from country to country. In the US, it lacks commitment and is short term while in nations like Scandinavia it is a long-term issue.
Children from a cohabiting couple are most likely going to cohabit. This is because children learn from the environment. Increasing trends in cohabiting mean that more families that will spring out of cohabiting. The attitudes and behaviors of parents greatly affect children. Studies have shown that 30% of children whose parents are married might see the divorce of their parents in comparison to 50% of children from cohabiting couples (Manning 27).
Cohabitation changes over time and now it is more accepted than ever. There is a steady rise among the number of couples who opt for cohabitation. Economic and social demands have made many people to cohabit instead of getting legally married. It is important to note that even those couples who cohabit hope to get a person who will satisfy all their needs. This implies that cohabiting does not satisfy them fully. Sociologists believe that cohabitation was modeled and inspired by divorce.