Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Living Arrangements and Family Formation Attitudes in Early Adulthood

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Living Arrangements and Family Formation Attitudes in Early Adulthood

Article excerpt

Rapidly rising rates of premarital cohabitation and nonfamily living have coincided with dramatic changes in family formation attitudes in the United States. This article examines the impact of nonfamily living arrangements and cohabitation on changes in family formation attitudes at the individual level. The theoretical framework focuses on the role of learning processes and cognitive consistency. This framework also draws similarities and differences between the likely impact of cohabitation and that of other living arrangements. Empirical analyses demonstrate that both the experience and duration of cohabiting arrangements have significant effects on family formation attitudes but fail to show significant consequences of premarital, nonfamily living arrangements. The findings provide insights into the consequences of new living arrangements for changes in family formation attitudes in early adulthood.

Key Words: attitudes, cohabitation, family formation, living arrangements.

The United States has seen dramatic changes in patterns of family formation in recent decades. Rates of marriage have declined, fertility remains low, and levels of divorce have reached previously unknown heights (Castro-Martin & Bumpass, 1989; Preston, 1986a; Rodgers & Thornton, 1985). These changes in family formation behavior have been accompanied by equally dramatic changes in attitudes and values related to family formation. The population's ideal age for marriage has risen, commitment to marriage has declined, the demand for children has dropped, and tolerance of both childlessness and divorce has grown (Pagnini & Rindfuss, 1993; Preston, 1986b; Thornton, 1989; Thornton & Freedman, 1983). The aim of the present study is to expand our understanding of the role played by new experiences with living arrangements in reshaping family formation values.

As age at marriage has risen, the transition to adulthood has been transformed by two previously uncommon experiences: nonfamily living and cohabitation. Young adults now spend substantial time living away from their families before marriage, sometimes living alone, at other times living in institutions, like dorms, or with housemates (Goldscheider & DaVanzo, 1985; Goldscheider & Goldscheider, 1993; Goldscheider, Thornton, & Young-DeMarco, 1993; Kobrin, 1976; Thornton, Young-DeMarco, & Goldscheider, 1993). The prevalence of cohabitation has risen in recent years, so that it, too, is now a common experience (Bumpass & Sweet, 1989; Bumpass, Sweet, & Cherlin, 1991; Thornton, 1988). These changes have reorganized the life courses of young adults and made the transition to adulthood a different process now than it was just 50 years ago.

Some evidence suggests that changes in attitudes and values may be partly responsible for increases in independent living away from parents before marriage and increases in cohabitation. Recent studies have shown that both parents' and individuals' attitudes and expectations affect individuals' choices of living arrangements (Axinn & Thornton, 1992, 1993; Clarkberg, Stolzenberg & Waite, 1995; Goldscheider & Goldscheider, 1993). However, there are also good reasons to expect that changes in residence patterns in early adulthood may have influenced changes in family formation attitudes. This article addresses the reciprocal effect of living arrangements on attitudes by focusing on changes in individuals' attitudes as they make the transition to adulthood. This focus on changes in young adults' attitudes allows us to explore the ways that choices of various living arrangements during the transition to adulthood modify attitudes across this transition.

This article advances our knowledge of the impact of living arrangements on changes in family formation values in three ways. First, we develop a detailed theoretical framework that explicitly describes the mechanisms that link cohabitation and other living arrangements to family formation values. …

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