Nontraditional behaviors with respect to sex, family, and gender roles have become increasingly widespread and more socially accepted (Barber & Axinn, 1998; Lye & Waldron, 1997; Werner-Wilson, 1998; Wu & Baer, 1994). The traditional, "nuclear" family, which has been described as a sexually exclusive unit with a division of labor between husband and wife and a focus on children (Burguiere, Kaplish-Zuber, Segalen, & Zonabend, 1994), has become more flexible with changing societal trends. In the U.S., for example, stepfamilies comprise nearly 17% of all two-parent families (Hetherington et al., 1998), while 50-60% of children born in 1990 lived with a single parent (Furstenberg, 1996; Hetherington et al., 1998; Tasker & Richards, 1994).
Marriage offers significant advantages to both adults and children. Married people have higher incomes and more assets than singles (Samuelson, 1996). Children of single-parent families are twice as likely to drop out of school and three times as likely to live in poverty when compared to children from two-parent families (Hetherington et al., 1998). In addition, married couples have been found to be happier and healthier (Horwitz & White, 1998; Phares & Lum, 1996). Nevertheless, marriage as an institution has become less valued, and nonmarital arrangements, such as cohabitation, have become more popular (Hetherington et al., 1998; Institute for American Values, 1995; Tasker & Richards, 1994). Furthermore, there is less of a stigma associated with the decision not to marry. The Institute for American Values (1995) reported that 33% of adults are ambivalent regarding whether or not it is better to marry than be single. The overall proportion of unmarried persons has risen in the past thirty years and the number of nonmarital cohabitants has also increased (Clydesdale, 1997; Edmondson, 1997; Kranczer, 1997). According to Edmondson (1997), more than 4 in 10 women aged 15 through 44 have been in an unmarried cohabitation partnership at some time in their lives.
Despite these trends, there is a consistent desire by Americans to marry. Most divorced people express a desire to remarry and 81% still believe marriage is a commitment for life (Clarksberg, Stolzenberg, & Waite, 1995; Furstenberg, 1996; Popenoe, 1993). Forty percent of all marriages in the United States now involve one spouse who has been married at least once (Ten Kate, 1996), with the United States having the highest remarriage rate in the world (Institute for American Values, 1995). Approximately 40% of married couple households are projected to become remarried families before the youngest child turns 18 (Hetherington et al., 1998; Institute for American Values, 1995; Ten Kate, 1996).
The Marriage and Family Life Survey (Martin & Martin, 1981) was chosen for the present study because of its ability to examine the many different dimensions of relationships (sex, cohabitation, role of religion, marriage status of parents, and proclivity to seek professional help concerning relationships). This instrument includes demographic questions pertaining to age, gender, ethnic background, year in school, parental marriage status, and dating experience.
For the purpose of this investigation, approximately 200 students out of a potential pool of 8,795 9th-12th graders were randomly selected to receive the Marriage and Family Life Survey (Martin & Martin, 1981). One hundred forty-five responses were received, providing a satisfactory level of statistical power (Erdfelder, Faul, & Buchner, 1996; Faul & Erdfelder, 1992).
Parents of the participants were sent a packet consisting of the survey, consent forms, and parental and participant introductory letters describing the purpose of the study, participants' confidentiality rights, whom to contact to obtain further information about the research, and method of returning completed surveys and consent forms. …