Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy

By Alan Booth; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview

6
What Mothers Teach, What Daughters Learn:
Gender Mistrust and Self-Suff iciency Among
Low-Income Women
Rebekah Levine Coley
Bostorl College

The prevalence of cohabitation has risen dramatically in recent decades, with demographers and other social scientists eager to understand the meaning, precursors, and impacts of this family form. In their comprehensive chapter on demographic trends in cohabitation in North America, Smock and Gupta (chap. 4, this volume) review the changing patterns of family formation, and discuss the primary factors that have been proposed as correlates or predictors of cohabitation, marriage, and nonmarital childbearing, such as social class, religion, egalitarianism, and liberalism. Smock and Gupta also review patterns of cohabitation among various racia/ethnic groups, which indicate substantially higher rates of cohabitation and nonmarital childbearing (both within and outside of cohabiting unions) among African Americans and Hispanics than among non-Hispanic Whites in the United States. Like others, Smock and Gupta attribute these racial/ethnic differences primarily to income and wealth differentials. They also note that “culture, ” that is the “set of beliefs, values, and behavior patterns that characterize a group” (p. 63) likely impacts both the role and meaning of cohabitation in different subgroups.

However, Smock and Gupta's chapter leaves unanswered numerous questions concerning the propagation and development of beliefs related to cohabitation, marriage, and nonmarital childbearing. Furthermore, they devote little attention to the question of whether gender influences beliefs or behaviors related to cohabitation. These are the topics on which I focus. Given the significantly different patterns of cohabitation and marriage between lower income versus higher income groups and between African Americans and Hispanics versus Whites in the United States, how can we move beyond economic explanations to focus on possible differences in the meaning and role of cohabitation in these groups'? How do gender roles and beliefs play a part in explaining changing family patterns? In short, I claim that one must consider individuals' and groups' psychological understanding of the intersections between partnering, childbearing, and marriage in order to gain a greater understanding of the demographic patterns.

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