Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Equal Access to Income and Union Dissolution among Mainland Puerto Ricans

Academic journal article Journal of Marriage and Family

Equal Access to Income and Union Dissolution among Mainland Puerto Ricans

Article excerpt

This study investigates the implications for union stability of different methods for providing access to income in cohabiting and marital unions among mainland Puerto Ricans. Using the Puerto Rican Maternal and Infant Health Study (N = 836), we show that union dissolution is associated with both union type and type of method. The relatively high rate of union dissolution among cohabiters is explained partially by their lower likelihood of organizing access to income under an equality principle through income pooling. Cohabiting unions that follow the equality principle, however, are as stable as marital unions that follow the equality principle. These patterns are interpreted in terms of the role of economic equality in solidifying socioemotional bonds.

Key Words: cohabitation, income pooling, marriage, union dissolution.

Over the last half century, a series of major demographic shifts has occurred in the United States. Among the trends of greatest concern to scholars and policymakers are those that signal the erosion of the institution of marriage. Most Americans still value marriage, but widespread acceptance of premarital sex, the rising prevalence of cohabitation, and the dramatic increase in nonmarital childbearing (often to cohabiting parents) indicate that marriage is no longer defined as the only legitimate context for sexual intimacy and procreation (Axinn & Thomton, 2000; Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Moreover, recent changes in family formation have been accompanied by a decline in marital stability. Although divorce rates have been stable for the last two decades (Bumpass & Lu), the long-term trend for U.S. couples has been an increase in the likelihood of divorce (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001; Ruggles, 1997).

The rise of cohabitation has stimulated scholarship on the meaning of both marital and cohabiting unions. The growing number of children born to cohabiting parents suggests that cohabitation is increasingly like marriage. Cohabitation is not equivalent to marriage, however. Compared with married persons, cohabiters are less happy with their relationships, are less committed to their partners, and have poorer quality relationships with their parents (Brown & Booth, 1996; Nock, 1995). Support for the contention that the bond between cohabiting partners is typically weaker than the marriage bond is found in the differential risk of union dissolution by union type: 40%-45% of first marriages and 70% of first cohabiting unions end within 10 years of their formation (Bramlett & Mosher, 2001).

Differences between cohabiting and marital unions are also of interest because they have implications for children. About 11% of births in the early 1990s (about 40% of nonmarital births) occurred to cohabiting parents. Further, about 40% of children will spend some time living in a cohabiting family before age 16 (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Thus, to understand the circumstances of children, it is increasingly necessary to understand how cohabiting unions function vis-à-vis marriage, especially in terms of children's access to resources and the stability of children's family lives.

In this article, we focus on differences between cohabiting and marital unions in an especially disadvantaged U.S. ethnic group: Puerto Ricans. Drawing on survey data collected from mainland Puerto Rican mothers who gave birth in 1994-1995, we assess the implications of union type (cohabitation vs. marriage) at the time of the birth for the stability of the union over subsequent years. A key focus of our analysis is the links between union type, the organization of financial resources within the union, and union dissolution. Building on a previous analysis that showed that income allocation methods such as income pooling differ for married and cohabiting couples (Oropesa, Landale, & Kenkre, 2003), we address the following questions: How does the risk of union dissolution differ for married and cohabiting couples with children? …

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