Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reassessing Differences in Work and Income in Cohabitation and Marriage

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Reassessing Differences in Work and Income in Cohabitation and Marriage

Article excerpt

Are cohabiters different than married couples who cohabited before marriage? This study used the 2002 wave of the National Survey of Families and Households to determine how work behavior might differ for 4 relationship types: (a) cohabiters with uncertain marriage plans, (b) cohabiters with definite marriage plans, (c) premarital cohabiters who recently married, and (d) premarital cohabiters married 5 or more years (n = 638). The results are compared with differences found in overall comparisons of all cohabiters and married couples (N = 916) and were markedly different, indicating that overall comparisons do not adequately capture the range of behavior across cohabitation and marriage. Evidence of increased specialization was found in marriage, yet steep behavioral differences were not found between cohabiters with definite marriage plans and recently married couples but instead were associated with longevity in marriage. This implies that any possible causal effect of marriage on behavior may accrue with time spent married.

Key Words: cohabitation, family roles, marital status, National Survey of Families and Households, paid work, spousal roles.

The majority of marriages in the United States now begin with premarital cohabitation, but remarkably little is known about how entrance or selection into marriage might be associated with changes in behavior among premarital cohabiters. Prior research has suggested that entrance into marriage may carry significant and beneficial differences in the behavior and outcomes of couples (Nock, 1995; Rindfuss & VandenHeuvel, 1990; Waite, 1995; Waite & Gallagher, 2000). This research has generally compared all married couples with all cohabiters to determine overall differences between these two groups and then theorized why these differences may be due to entrance or selection into marriage.

Such research could speak only to overall differences between cohabitation and marriage relationships and did not yield much insight into how behavior might differ because of entrance or selection into marriage. These comparisons included cohabiters who did not intend to marry their partner, a group significantly different than cohabiters with marital intentions (Brown, 2000; Brown & Booth, 1996). This research then compared cohabiters to all married couples, including both premarital cohabiters and those who did not cohabit before marriage, groups increasingly distinct from each other (Kuperberg, 2010). Differences previously found between cohabiters and married couples may be due to a priori differences between these two types of married couples, or between cohabiters with and without marital intentions. Furthermore, this research compared cohabitation, a relatively short-term relationship, to both recent and longer term marriages, which could result in differences that are due to the longevity of married relationships as compared to cohabitation, rather than entrance or selection into marriage.

To answer the question of whether entrance into marriage among premarital cohabiters may be associated with significant behavioral differences, a more selective examination of cohabitation and marriage must be undertaken in which cohabiting couples who are most likely to marry are compared with recently married couples who cohabited before marriage. Although some attrition occurs between these two states, these two groups are the closest approximation to studying the same group at two different points in their relationship when using cross-sectional data. In this study, I examined differences in behavior among cohabiters with both strong and uncertain marital intentions and compared them with married couples who cohabited before marriage in both recent and longer term marriages. My intent was to assess the extent to which prior cross-sectional comparisons of cohabitation and marriage may misrepresent possible behavioral changes associated with marriage among premarital cohabiters. …

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