Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Income Allocation in Marital and Cohabiting Unions: The Case of Mainland Puerto Ricans

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Income Allocation in Marital and Cohabiting Unions: The Case of Mainland Puerto Ricans

Article excerpt

The rise of cohabitation and the growing share of births to cohabiting couples have led to speculation that the boundary between marriage and cohabitation is blurring. We examine this issue with an analysis of the financial arrangements of fathers of mainland Puerto Rican children. The analysis shows that married fathers are more likely than cohabiting fathers to pool their income, but this difference does not result from socioeconomic and demographic factors that foster uncertainty. The analysis also demonstrates that income allocation methods are generally stable over time after differences in union dissolution by allocation method are considered. The discussion emphasizes the need for research on the ways that financial ties reflect and reinforce the bonds between partners.

Key Words: cohabitation, income pooling, marriage, Puerto Rican.

The last several decades have witnessed important transformations in family formation behavior. Among the most significant changes is the erosion of marriage as the exclusive context for sexual intimacy and procreation. Another change is the growing prominence of cohabitation over the life course (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001; Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Marital unions are increasingly likely to be preceded by cohabitation, and births within cohabiting unions account for a rising share of the recent increase in nonmarital childbearing. Furthermore, nearly 40% of children will spend part of their childhood in a cohabiting union (Bumpass & Lu).

These trends have spurred efforts to determine the meaning of cohabitation; that is, whether cohabitation is an extension of singlehood, a substitute for marriage, or a type of relationship that lies somewhere between these extremes (Seltzer, 2000; Smock & Gupta, 2002). Although the growing share of childbearing occurring within cohabiting unions suggests that such unions are marriage-like, cohabitation is not necessarily a substitute for marriage (Waite & Gallagher, 2000). In keeping with the lower levels of commitment in cohabiting relationships (Nock, 1995), cohabiting unions are relatively unstable and some studies suggest their instability is increasing (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). The tenuous bond that characterizes cohabitation is matched by normative ambiguity about both the meaning and the management of cohabiting unions (Landale, 2002; Nock).

The growing role of cohabitation in nonmarital fertility and normative ambiguity within cohabiting unions have attracted the attention of scholars concerned with the economic implications of union formation patterns. This is especially evident in recent work on child poverty. For example, Manning and Lichter (1996; see also Bauman, 1999) suggest that the inclusion of both cohabiting partners' incomes in the income component of the poverty measure would decrease estimates of the proportion of children living in poverty. Yet this procedure is based on assumptions about how income is managed in different types of unions. It is warranted only if living conditions reflect the incomes of both partners in a cohabiting union and if cohabiting partners have access to each other's income. Such access is facilitated by income pooling arrangements in which each person in a union puts income into a common pot, rather than maintaining a separate purse or providing a housing allowance. Thus it would be useful to know whether "married and 'as-married' (or cohabiting) couples differ in their approaches to money" (Burgoyne, 1995, p. 423; see also Manning & Smock, 1997).

The lack of information on how cohabiting and married couples manage their income is acute for both the general population and for special populations. Important among the latter are economically disadvantaged racial and ethnic minority groups. Because members of such groups often lack the economic resources required to form and maintain stable marriages, they are disproportionately at risk of both cohabitation and nonmarital fertility. …

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