Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Cohabitation and Beyond: The Contribution of Each Partner's Relationship Satisfaction and Fertility Aspirations to Pathways of Cohabiting Couples

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

Cohabitation and Beyond: The Contribution of Each Partner's Relationship Satisfaction and Fertility Aspirations to Pathways of Cohabiting Couples

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Over the past few decades, couple formation patterns have changed dramatically in Australia and other western countries. Although most people get married at some stage, marriage rates have declined, and those who enter marriage do so later in life, often having lived together before they marry (de Vaus, 2004). According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), the proportion of couples who cohabited prior to marriage increased from around 25% in 1977 to 65% in 1997 and to 77% in 2007 (ABS, 1998, 2008a). Furthermore, the proportion of all "living together" couples who were cohabiting rather than married has steadily increased (from 6% in 1986 to 15% in 2006) (ABS, 1995, 2007), as has the proportion of babies born outside marriage (from 18% in 1987 to 33% in 2007). It appears that most of the babies were born to cohabiting couples (ABS, 2008b).

Cohabitation may have a variety of meanings. Various overseas studies suggest that some people cohabit to test their relationship, as a prelude to marriage, for the sake of convenience (e.g., to share household expenses), as a substitute for marriage, or simply because they want to spend as much time as they can with their partner (see Guzzo, 2009; Rhoades, Stanley & Markman, 2009; Sassier, Miller & Favinger, 2009). Of course, the meaning of cohabitation may change, and each partner may interpret the relationship differently. Furthermore, people enter cohabitation with different marital histories and aspirations regarding marriage and children which may mean that we need to take these into account when explaining the different outcomes of cohabitation (Bulcher et al, 2009)

Not only is cohabitation now the normative pathway to marriage, the period for which couples cohabit is changing. Couples who cohabit and then marry are now living together longer before marrying. In the early 1970s the average duration of a cohabiting relationship prior to marriage was 2.3 years, while this had extended to 2.7 years by the early 1990s. However cohabiting relationships that end in separation are ending more quickly nowadays: in the early 1970s the average length of such relationships was 3.8 years but by the early 1990s this have fallen to 2.6 years (de Vaus, 2004).

Despite its increasing prevalence, cohabitation is a relatively unstable living arrangement as evidenced by the fact that the vast majority of couples either marry or separate within the first few years of the union. Indeed, the probability of cohabitation ending in separation rather than marriage has increased (de Vaus, 2004; de Vaus, Qu & Weston, 2003; Weston, de Vaus & Qu, 2003). Only nine per cent of those whose cohabitation commenced in the early 1990s were still cohabiting with the same partner in 2001 (7-1 1 years later). Furthermore there is evidence that cohabiting relationships are increasingly likely to end in separation. Of those whose first unions commenced in the early 1970s, 63 per cent married within five years and 25 percent separated. But by the early 1990s, the chance of marriage within 5 years had fallen to 43 per cent and the chance of separation had increased to 38 per cent (Weston et al., 2003; de Vaus, 2004).

As cohabitation has become more prevalent, there has been growing research interest in the factors that influence, or are at least associated with, cohabitation transitions. There are three basic pathways for a cohabiting relationship: a couple may continue to cohabit, they may separate or they may marry. What factors are linked with these different pathways from cohabitation?

A range of factors have been investigated. These include the couple's financial circumstances and related socio-demographic characteristics such as education, their age, presence of children in the household, their experience of previous relationships and the gendered division of domestic labour (Brown, 2000; Cherlin, 2004; Duvander, 2000; Sanchez, Manning & Smock, 1998; Smock & Manning, 1997; Smock, Manning & Porter, 2005; Wu, 1995). …

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