Bound by Children: Intermittent Cohabitation and Living Together Apart

By Cross-Barnet, Caitlin; Cherlin, Andrew et al. | Family Relations, December 2011 | Go to article overview

Bound by Children: Intermittent Cohabitation and Living Together Apart


Cross-Barnet, Caitlin, Cherlin, Andrew, Burton, Linda, Family Relations


In this article, we examine variations in low-income mothers' patterns of intermittent cohabitation and the voluntary and involuntary nature of these unions. Intermittent cohabitation involves couples living together and separating in repeating cycles. Using Three-City Study ethnographic data, we identified 45 low-income mothers involved in these arrangements, 18 of whom resided with their children's fathers occasionally while saying that they were not in a cohabiting relationship. We term such relationships living together apart (LTA). Data analysis revealed that distinct patterns of voluntary and involuntary separations and reunifications characterized intermittent cohabitation and LTA and that these relationships were shaped by the bonds that shared parenting created and the economic needs of both parents. We argue that these dimensions may explain some disparate accounts of cohabitation status in low-income populations. They also demonstrate previously unexplored diversity in cohabiting relationships and suggest further questioning contemporary definitions of families.

Key Words: cohabitation, family diversity, homelessness and poverty, low-income families, men in families.

Women living in poverty have frequently exhibited intimate union patterns that fall outside of mainstream norms. In the United States, childbearing without marriage has historically been most common among lower income families (Cherlin, 2005), and cohabitation, though now common among all income groups (Sassier, 2010), was previously practiced primarily among the poor (Cherlin, 2008). Among middle-class families, cohabitation is usually part of a marriage trajectory, with a cohabiting relationship serving as a trial for marriage or as a precursor to the actual wedding (e.g., Lichter, Qian, & Mellott, 2006). Among lower income and minority women, however, cohabitation has sometimes served as a marriage alternative (Phillips & Sweeney, 2005) and has increasingly become an alternative to being single (Manning & Smock, 2005; Sassier & Miller, 2009). During the past few decades, marriage rates have declined substantially among lower income women, urban women, and African American women in particular, with the number of women in these groups who marry before age 30 falling far below national averages (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002; Gibson-Davis, 2011).

Research now indicates that there are not only higher rates of cohabitation among the poor, but also increasingly frequent variations in cohabitation patterns. Rates of nonmarital births continue to be highest among those with lower income and who are less educated (Cherlin, 2005), but women in their 20s, rather than their teens, now account for the majority of all nonmarital births (Ventura, 2009), and a majority of nonmarital births may be to cohabiting mothers (Kennedy & Bumpass, 2008). Multiple partner fertility has become more frequent (Carlson & Furstenburg, 2006). Lower income women are most likely to engage in serial cohabitations, in which they cohabit with more than one man in sequence without ever marrying (Cohen & Manning, 2010; Lichter, Turner, & Sassier, 2010). Unmarried parents are frequently cohabiting at the time of their child's birth, but the relationship often does not last beyond the child's first years (Parents' relationship status, 2007). Scholars, however, have noted that having a child together often creates lasting ties between parents whether or not they remain romantically involved (Edin & Kefalas, 2005; Roy, Buckmiller, & McDowell, 2008).

To a certain extent, these ongoing ties are legally mandated. Changes in the law that began in the later 1960s recognized parental rights and obligations outside of marriage. Before this era, men had no legal rights to their children unless they were married to the child's mother. Subsequently, men not only earned rights to visitation and custody (Mason, Fine, & Camochan, 2001), but were also charged with the obligation to financially support their children (Aberg, Small, & Watson, 1977). …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Bound by Children: Intermittent Cohabitation and Living Together Apart
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.