Characteristics of College Students Who Cohabit

By Knox, David; Zusman, Marty E. et al. | College Student Journal, December 1999 | Go to article overview

Characteristics of College Students Who Cohabit


Knox, David, Zusman, Marty E., Snell, Samantha, Cooper, Chris, College Student Journal


Six-hundred-twenty university students completed an anonymous confidential questionnaire designed to identify characteristics of college students who cohabit. While 15 percent of the sample are or have lived together, 86 percent were open to doing so. Cohabitants who were more likely to live together were juniors/seniors, had hedonistic sexual values, and had dated interracially. University faculty, counselors, and students might be aware that living together is an option for most students but that older, hedonistic, racially tolerant individuals are most likely to cohabit

But I let her do some of my laundry and she slipped a few meals in between and the next thing I remember, she was all moved in, and I was buying her a washing machine are the lyrics to Ready or Not, an old Jackson Browne hit. His words reflect the subtle move of a couple's relationship from casual dating to living together. Also known as cohabitation, living together in this article is defined as two unrelated adults of the opposite sex living in the same residence who share an emotional/sexual relationship.

Cohabitation has become a stage in courtship for many couples. In a random sample of 947 individuals, 60 percent of couples who had been married five years or less reported that they had cohabited before marriage (Stanley and Markman, 1997). This study was designed to identify characteristics of today's college students who reported that they had lived together.

Data

Six-hundred and twenty never married undergraduates from five first year level sociology courses at East Carolina University voluntarily completed an anonymous questionnaire designed to identify the characteristics of college students who live together. Among the respondents, 63% were women; 37% were men. Eighty-percent of those surveyed were first year students and sophomores; twenty percent were juniors and seniors. The median age was 19. Respondents were predominately white (87%) and African-American (8.5%) with 1% Hispanic and 3.6% "other". Almost half (48.3%) of the respondents were involved in a reciprocal love relationship. Ten months was the median number of months they had been involved with their current partner.

Students were asked specifically about their cohabitation history. Item 22 on the 24-item questionnaire was "I have lived with someone I was not married to." Respondents were asked to respond on a continuum-"Strongly Agree", "Agree", "Disagree", and "Strongly Disagree"." Neither agree nor disagree" was also an option. Responses to "Strongly Agree" and "Agree" were combined as were responses to "Strongly Disagree" and "Disagree". Questionnaires where the respondent checked "neither agree nor disagree" were eliminated from the analysis. Of the 568 questionnaires analyzed, fifteen percent of the respondents (18% men; 13% women) reported that they had lived with someone. A profile of those who were currently living together or who had done so in the past emerged.

Findings and Discussion

There were no significant differences in the percentage of men and women who reported having lived together. Similarly, there were no significant differences in the percentage of respondents who identified themselves as white, black, Hispanic, or "other" with regard to current or previous living together experiences. However, three factors were statistically significant with regard to those who had lived together compared to those who had not.

1. Older. The older the student, the more likely the student reported having cohabited. Students who were 20 and older (juniors and seniors) were significantly (p [is less than] .0000) more likely to have lived together than students who were 18 or 19 (first year students and sophomores). One explanation for a relatively low percentage of respondents reporting that they had lived together is that 80 percent were first year students and sophomores. Previous research has revealed that the older the individual, the more likely that individual is to have cohabited. …

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