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

By Britner, Preston A.; VanBuren, Jennifer | Family Relations, July 2003 | Go to article overview

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


Britner, Preston A., VanBuren, Jennifer, Family Relations


Booth, A., & Crouter, A. C. (Eds.). (2002). Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. 289 pp. ISBN 0-8058-3963-1. Price $59.95 (hardcover).

Just Living Together is the edited volume that emerged from the 2000 National Symposium on Family Issues held at Pennsylvania State University. It is one of the first scholarly books devoted to understanding the reasons for, consequences of, and policy implications of increased rates of cohabitation in Western Europe and North America.

The editors use a deft touch and a mere two pages of preface to set up the book's 16 chapters. For the most part, the four sections of the book provide sufficient structure for the reader. The first part addresses major historical and cross-cultural foundations of cohabitation. Kiernan (chapter 1) provides excellent demographic analyses from Western Europe and highlights substantial variability across nations, with their distinct cultures and social policies. Lansdale (chapter 2) raises the question of whether recent Western European and North American patterns of cohabitation are a distinct phenomenon or are similar to family trends in other societies.

Part II studies the role of cohabitation in family structure, with a specific focus on contemporary North American families. Useful data from North America (chapter 4, Smock & Gupta) and Canada (chapter 7, Le Bourdais & Juby) are presented, but the reader is forced to do some page flipping for comparisons with the Western European data found back in chapter 1. (For additional U.S. data, we refer the interested reader to Bramlet and Mosher's [2002] report based on the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth.) Throughout the section, there are interesting interpretations of societal acceptance of cohabitation and what distinguishes those individuals who cohabit from those who do not. There are also some intriguing ethnographic, historical, and quantitative approaches used to explain differences in rates of cohabitation, marriage, single parenthood, and father involvement in low-income and, especially, in low-income African American communities. Conclusions about the availability of "marriageable" men (chapter 5, Jayakody & Cabrera) and the "gender mistrust" espoused by women to their daughters (chapter 6; Coley) in low-income communities are both disconcerting and worthy of further attention.

Part III examines short- and long-term child well-being outcomes. Despite evidence of the more transient and unstable nature of cohabiting relationships compared with marriages, there is scant information on some important outcomes, such as child maltreatment, child-parent attachment security, and educational attainment. It becomes clear from these chapters that data are limited, and there is much to learn about the impact of different forms of cohabitation on children's social, physical, and cognitive outcomes.

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