In this concluding chapter we leave the details of regression coefficients and decompositions of total and indirect effects and discuss the implications of our research for our general understanding of the nature of marriage and cohabitation in the United States today. Although our primary interest concerns the decisions young people make about entrance into marriage and cohabitation, the transformation of cohabitations into marriages, and the intergenerational forces producing these processes, we also consider more generally the place of marriage and cohabitation in American society. We approach this task of summarization and conclusion from a number of different angles. We begin, as we did in chapters 1 and 2, by considering marriage and family life in the world of western Europe during the 1700s, with the confidence that the candle of history can help illuminate understanding of current social relationships. We then move to a picture of marriage, family, and social life in the United States today. As in the earlier chapters, we emphasize both change and continuity in social relationships, being impressed by the remarkable continuities that have accompanied the equally notable changes.
Finally, we will portray the essential elements of American life influencing entrance into cohabitation and marriage. As we have done throughout the book, we take an intergenerational approach to this examination