'Put a Ring on It'; Marriage Beats Cohabitation in Quest for Happiness

Article excerpt

Byline: Janice Shaw Crouse, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Once again, popular music follows contemporary culture. Beyonce's pop hit Single Ladies looks at today's cohabitation scene. With nearly 50 percent of young adults aged 20 to 40 cohabiting, living together has become a far-too-typical experience marking a young woman's coming of age. Beyonce's lyrics treat the reality of cohabitation with typical sass: Cuz I cried my tears, gave three good years. Actually, the typical cohabiting relationship lasts just 18 months, and usually it is the guy rather than the girl who determines when it ends and whether it will lead to marriage.

Perhaps Beyonce's hit song gives a small glimmer of hope that, in addition to reflecting a new consciousness in the popular culture, she will magnify the influence on the culture of this budding new realism - the age-old idea that men should put a ring on it. She wistfully declares that though we just broke up .. your love is what I prefer Nevertheless, the song stresses that the singer deserves much more: a lasting, permanent love, one that delivers me to a destiny, to infinity and beyond.

In addition to her popularity and talent, Beyonce was almost guaranteed a hit because the number of single ladies sharing a living space with benefits has increased dramatically - up 1,000 percent in the U.S. since 1970 and more than tripled in the United Kingdom between 1976 and 2004 (from 9 percent to 28 percent). While increasingly common among college students and young professionals, living together without marriage is even more common among the uneducated and poor. In addition, by age 20, nearly three out of four young women have experienced premarital sex (74 percent).

Marriage rates around the world have dropped precipitously. Since 1972, the U.S. marriage rate (among all females 15 to 44) has decreased by nearly one-third, while the rate in the United Kingdom has decreased by more than half. In France, there has been a 43 percent decrease, and in Germany, a 38 percent decrease (added to an 18 percent decrease from 1960-1970). These data mean that the British rate of young unmarried women has jumped to almost three out of five for women of childbearing age, while the American rate has gone from two out of five to not quite one half. According to Neil Clark Warren, chairman and co-founder of eHarmony online dating service, nearly half of today's young adults cannot recommend even one single healthy, exemplary marriage.

Clearly, when the prevailing attitude is that having sex is no big deal and entails no commitment, then moving in and living together with no strings attached becomes that much more likely. However, let's look at the facts. The research is clear: Cohabiting couples report less satisfaction in their relationships than married couples; they are more likely to divorce than are married couples who didn't live together before marriage; abuse of women and children in cohabiting relationships is more likely from the mother's boyfriend than from her husband or her children's father. …