Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Joint and Separated Lifestyles in Couple Relationships

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Joint and Separated Lifestyles in Couple Relationships

Article excerpt

A survey among 1,523 married and cohabiting couples in the Netherlands is used to describe the extent to which couples have lifestyles characterized by separate leisure pursuits. Four types of leisure are examined: visiting friends and family, entertainment, outdoor recreation, and indoor leisure. For these activities, we find that contemporary couples cannot be characterized as highly individualized. Next, we analyze why some couples have a more separated lifestyle than others. Hypotheses are developed about the life cycle of the couple, the couple's work life, social and cultural homogamy, and value orientations. Multivariate analyses show that life cycle factors are an important determinant of separate lifestyles, whereas evidence for the role of values and homogamy is modest. We also present evidence revealing the time constraints that children and work schedules pose for realizing a joint lifestyle, but we do not find that spouses in dual-earner couples generally operate more separately than do other couples.

Key Words: cohabitation, companionship, leisure, marital stability, marriage, social networks.

Dependencies in marriage assume different forms. If there is a rigid division of labor in the household-with husbands working for pay and wives fully responsible for domestic labor-spouses are dependent on each other in an economic sense. If men and women are living together as a married couple, they are dependent in a legal sense as well. And if husbands and wives have children together, they are dependent socially, that is, dependent on each other through a shared connection to a third person. Another way in which husbands and wives can be tied to each other lies in the way they arrange their day-to-day lives. If husbands and wives engage in shared leisure activities and often go out together, and if they have many friends in common and spend most of their income on collective rather than private consumption, the couple has what we may call a joint lifestyle. Joint lifestyles create dependencies because the more jointly the spouses operate in their free time, the more their well-being is dependent on the partner. Joint lifestyles also tie couples together because they raise the costs of a possible breakup. Spouses who are used to spending most of their leisure time together may miss these shared experiences in the event their marriage dissolves and couples with common friends may lose a greater part of their network after a divorce than other couples (Milardo, 1987). In other words, by developing a joint lifestyle, couples produce a set of goods that are directly connected to their marriage and that primarily yield benefits to that specific relationship. Like children, shared activities, mutual friends and collective consumption in marriage function as a form of "marital capital" (Becker, Landes, & Michael, 1977; Hill, 1988).

Using the notion of joint versus separated lifestyles, this study examines the leisure activities of 1,523 married and unmarried cohabiting couples in The Netherlands. In this study, both partners were asked to report on a series of leisure activities, ranging from visiting friends and parents, to attending a theater and going on vacation. For each of these activities, persons were asked to indicate how often they participate, as well as how often they participate together with their spouses. The first goal of our analysis is descriptive. We assess whether the lifestyles of couples in a modem society can be characterized as joint or separated. Our second goal is explanatory. We try to understand why some couples develop a joint lifestyle, whereas others maintain more separated lifestyles. To understand such differences, we consider the role of the life cycle of the couple, the type of work spouses do, the degree to which they resemble each other in a cultural sense (homogamy), and the values to which they are oriented. We develop hypotheses about the possible effects of these characteristics and test the hypotheses using multivariate regression analyses in which indicators of separated lifestyles are the dependent variables. …

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