Comparing Marriage, Cohabitation, and Being Single
Historically, marital status in the United States and other Western societies has been defined with two master categories: single and married. Although the single status could be further divided into the subcategories of never married, widowed, and divorced, the only relevant categories for defining the status of most young people were never married and married. As we noted in the previous chapter, marriage was not a simple, unchanging, and homogeneous category, but varied in conception and practice across both time and social groups.
Conceptualizing relationship statuses has become more challenging with the widespread acceptance and practice of unmarried cohabitation in the West in recent decades. Like marriage, cohabitation is a complex category containing individuals with diverse perspectives, aims, and relationships (Carmichael 1995; Casper 1992; Casper and Bianchi 2002; Casper and Sayer 2000; Jamieson et al. 2002; Manning and Smock 2002; Smock 2000). In addition, the introduction of cohabitation has not only added a new relationship status to the mix, but introduced two new relationship contrasts: between cohabitation and being single and between cohabitation and marriage.
Our goal in this chapter is to explore the meanings of marriage, cohabitation, and being single, the contrasts among these statuses, and how cohabitation relates to marriage and being single. We also examine the heterogeneity of cohabitors by considering the motivations and expecta-