Marriage and Cohabitation
by Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn and Yu Xie
University of Chicago Press, 2007
Cloth: 978-0-226-79866-0 | Paper: 978-0-226-79867-7 | Electronic: 978-0-226-79868-4
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYREVIEWSTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

In an era when half of marriages end in divorce, cohabitation has become more commonplace and those who do get married are doing so at an older age. So why do people marry when they do? And why do some couples choose to cohabit? A team of expert family sociologists examines these timely questions in Marriage and Cohabitation, the result of their research over the last decade on the issue of union formation.

Situating their argument in the context of the Western world’s 500-year history of marriage, the authors reveal what factors encourage marriage and cohabitation in a contemporary society where the end of adolescence is no longer signaled by entry into the marital home. While some people still choose to marry young, others elect to cohabit with varying degrees of commitment or intentions of eventual marriage. The authors’ controversial findings suggest that family history, religious affiliation, values, projected education, lifetime earnings, and career aspirations all tip the scales in favor of either cohabitation or marriage. This book lends new insight into young adult relationship patterns and will be of interest to sociologists, historians, and demographers alike.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Arland Thornton is professor of sociology and a research professor at the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at the University of Michigan. He is the author of Reading History Sideways, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

William G. Axinn is professor of sociology at the University of Michigan and a research professor at the ISR.

Yu Xie is the Otis Dudley Duncan Professor of Sociology and Statistics at the University of Michigan and a research professor at the ISR.

REVIEWS

"What is noteworthy is the importance of intergenerational factors in people's decisions on cohabitation and marriage. This book is an important scholarly contribution to understanding marriage and family in the US, with many interesting insights and interpretations concerning the growing phenomenon of premarital cohabitation. . . . Highly recommended."
— Choice

"A brave attempt at providing a review of the history of the development of marriage and cohabitation in prior centuries and of utilising the life histories of a generation of parents and children who live out their lives across much of the twentieth century to benchmark, illustrate and facilitate our understanding of the meaning of marriage and cohabitation."
— Kathleen Kiernan, European Journal of Population

"The book will be of interest to researchers in family-related fields. The literature review is extensive, the presentations of statistical modelling results are easy to understand, and the findings regarding possible intergenerational influences on union formation pathways are insightful."
— Lixia Qu, Journal of Population Research

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Acknowledgments

I. Historical and Conceptual Issues

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0001
[marriage, cohabitation, experiences, attitudes, family, young people, parents]
This book focuses on the ways in which the marriage and cohabitation decisions of young people are influenced by their personal circumstances, experiences, attitudes, and the larger family system, investigating a wide range of these causal influences. It evaluates the family and personal characteristics of individuals who participated in these changes, focusing on factors that predict young people's entrance into marital and cohabiting unions. The book investigates the tempo of forming marital and cohabiting unions, the choice between cohabitation and marriage, and the transformation of cohabiting unions into marriage. It provides a comprehensive analysis of forces shaping young people's decisions to enter marital and cohabiting relationships. Since these decisions have their roots quite early in adulthood, sometimes as early as in adolescence, the book begins by considering the influence of parents as well as that of the young adults on these decisions. (pages 3 - 23)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0002
[marriage, cohabitation, United States, family, American Revolution, courtship, sex, childbearing, marital dissolution, social organization]
This chapter is based on the premise that understanding the forces underlying marriage and cohabitation in the United States today is facilitated by knowledge of the historical roots of family life. Many features of the institutions of marriage and family in America today can be traced back hundreds and even thousands of years to the northwestern European past—and frequently appear in remarkably similar form. Other features of personal and family life in America today have changed dramatically over the centuries—often in surprising and little understood ways. The chapter provides an overview of the American Revolution and the establishment of the new republic at the end of the 1700s and beginning of the 1800s. It then discusses in general terms the role of families and marriage in social organization, the marriage and household system, parental involvement in courtship and marriage, sex and childbearing, and marital dissolution. (pages 24 - 75)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0003
[marriage, cohabitation, single, relationship, adolescence, young people]
This chapter explores the meanings of marriage, cohabitation, and being single; the contrasts among these statuses; and how cohabitation relates to marriage and being single. It also examines the heterogeneity of cohabitors by considering the motivations and expectations of people who cohabit, both at the beginning of cohabitation and later in the relationship, beginning with being single, because it is the first relationship status experienced by young people. Although babies enter the world embedded within a complex kin and community system, their relationship status is firmly and clearly single as they are born without partner and without spouse. In Western societies, this single status persists through the first decade of life and changes dramatically in the second decade with the coming of adolescence and young adulthood. (pages 76 - 91)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0004
[single, marriage, cohabitation, couples, young adults, teenagers, union formation]
This chapter focuses on the individual transitions that transform single individuals into cohabiting and married couples. The primary emphasis is on union-formation rates. What are the rates of transforming single individuals into cohabitors and spouses? And what are the rates of transforming cohabiting unions into marriages? The chapter describes these rates, showing how they differ by the age and gender of the individual, and also considers cumulative experience with each of the relationship statuses. What fraction of the population ever enters a union and what percentages of these new unions are entered through marriage and cohabitation? And given the movement among the three relationship statuses, what fractions of individuals are single, married, and cohabiting at any particular point of the life course? The chapter's emphasis is on young adults as they mature from teenagers into their early thirties. (pages 92 - 112)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

II. Parental Factors during Childhood and Adolescence

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0005
[union formation, parents, young adults, cohabitation, marriage, family organization, immigration, religion, marital experience, childbearing]
Union formation is an intergenerational process involving both young adults and their parents. This chapter examines the many factors in the parental generation influencing the entrance of young adults into cohabitation and marriage. It then looks at the parental explanatory factors from six substantive domains, each with several dimensions: family organization; family immigration and farm background; parental socio-economic standing; religion; maternal marital experience; and parental childbearing. The chapter discusses specific ways these dimensions of the parental family can influence young adult children directly as well as indirectly, through other factors in both the first and second generations. It analyzes parental influences on several dimensions of the union-formation process: the total union-formation rate that treats marriage and cohabitation as equivalent contrasts to being single, and the rates of entrance into marriage and cohabitation with each union status treated as an independent alternative to being single. (pages 115 - 154)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0006
[family, cohabitation, education, employment, childbearing, divorce, remarriage, marriage, family size, financial resources]
This chapter is motivated by the observation that parental families are not static entities, but dynamic and evolving organizations. Although children may experience many continuities in family life from infancy through childhood and into adolescence, most also experience numerous changes in their family environment. The chapter examines how the children's marital and cohabitation decisions are related to their familial experiences during these years of childhood and early adolescence. Two types of family factors are considered: how the education, employment, childbearing, divorce, and remarriage experience of parents from birth to age fifteen relate to their children's subsequent marital and cohabitation decisions; and how parental financial resources, family-size preferences, attendance at religious services, sex-role attitudes, and relationships with family and friends when the children are age fifteen relate to their own subsequent decisions about marriage and cohabitation. (pages 155 - 180)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

III. Parent and Child Factors during the Children’s Young Adulthood

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0007
[parents, union formation, dating, going steady, sexual initiation, cohabitation, marriage, courtship, heterosexual relationships]
This chapter, which explores the influence of both parents and children during the years when the children are making decisions about union formation, considers the influence of the individual factors in equations that control for parental factors measured through age fifteen, but which do not control for later explanatory factors. It focuses on how the heterosexual experiences of the children during their adolescent years—specifically dating, going steady, and sexual initiation—are related to the timing of union formation and the choice between cohabitation and marriage. The chapter also considers the effects of both the timing of the initiation of these courtship experiences and the intensity and extensiveness of heterosexual relationships during late adolescence, and finally, investigates how pregnancies occurring before the initiation of residential unions influence entrance into marriage and cohabitation. (pages 183 - 209)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0008
[religiosity, union formation, parents, religion, marriage, cohabitation, dating, intimacy, living arrangements, religious services]
This chapter compares the effects of paternal and maternal religious activity on children's union-formation experience, asking explicitly whether mothers or fathers influence their children the most. It also compares the effects of parents' religiosity early in a child's life with the effects of parental religiosity when the child is a teenager and making decisions about dating, intimacy, and living arrangements. The chapter introduces indicators of the children's religious commitment, examining the extent to which their participation in religious services, evaluation of the importance of religion in their lives, and belief in the validity and reliability of religious texts affect their experience in marriage and cohabitation. It also compares the effects of children's religiosity to the effects of similar maternal religiosity factors. (pages 210 - 224)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0009
[attitudes, values, beliefs, family formation, cohabitation, marriage, premarital sex, childbearing, young people, consumer spending]
Attitudes, values, and beliefs are central factors in theoretical models of family formation behavior and key elements in understanding changing patterns of family formation. This chapter examines the influence of a broad range of attitudes on young people's experiences with premarital cohabitation and marriage. It looks at attitudes toward dimensions of family formation, such as cohabitation, premarital sex, marriage, and childbearing, as well as attitudes toward non-family activities that may compete with family formation, such as education, careers, and consumer spending. The chapter also discusses the role of parental attitudes in shaping children's attitudes and behavior. It argues that values, beliefs, and attitudes expressed in the family of origin are important aspects of the families themselves and have significant effects on adult children's family formation behavior. Thus, the chapter adds an examination of the role of mothers' attitudes in shaping their children's attitudes and behavior. (pages 225 - 264)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0010
[marriage, cohabitation, education, school enrollment, educational attainment, young people, aspirations, ability, enjoyment]
Because marriage in Western societies historically meant the establishment of independent households and economic units, couples who wanted to marry required the earning capacity to maintain considerable residential and economic independence from their parents. This chapter explores the independent effects of school enrollment and educational attainment on the rate of entering marriage and premarital cohabitation. It also examines the differences between the effects of full-time and part-time enrollment, and the potential dissipation of these effects as young people age. The chapter then assesses the effect of early variations in individuals' aspirations, ability, and enjoyment of school experiences, and, finally, discusses the extent to which experiences with school enrollment and attainment explain the effects of early variations in aspirations, ability, and enjoyment of school. Together, the results provide an extensive documentation of the influence of education on marriage and cohabiting behavior. (pages 265 - 285)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0011
[labor force, marriage, cohabitation, union formation, role conflict, social status, Gary Becker, economic theory, economic resources]
This chapter examines the influence of work in the labor force on marriage and cohabitation. Like education, work can have both negative and positive effects on union formation. On the one hand, because successful careers often require substantial investments of time and energy early in the life course, they can compete with union-formation behavior. Thus, role conflict may preclude early union formation among individuals pursuing career ambitions. Empirical evidence indicates that the historical division of labor between women and men has influenced the preferences of women and men for partners, with women more than men emphasizing social status and economic prowess as an important trait in a spouse. One of the most-cited formulations of the relationship between economic resources and marriage is provided by Gary Becker's neoclassical economic theory of marriage. (pages 286 - 302)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

IV. Integration and Summary of Effects

- Arland Thornton, William G. Axinn, Yu Xie
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226798684.003.0012
[marriage, cohabitation, United States, family life, Western Europe, social life, young people, social relationships, family]
This chapter discusses the implications of research for the general understanding of the nature of marriage and cohabitation in the United States today. Although the 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, it also considers more generally the place of marriage and cohabitation in American society. The chapter considers marriage and family life in Western Europe during the 1700s, with the confidence that the candle of history can help illuminate understanding of current social relationships, and then moves on to a picture of marriage, family, and social life in the United States today. (pages 305 - 332)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Appendix A: Technical Explanation of Estimation of Total, Direct, and Indirect Effects

Appendix B: Conceptualizing and Estimating Union Formation Rates

Appendix C: Description of Measures Used in Chapters 5 through 11

Appendix D: Constructing Measures of Earnings Potential for Use in Chapter 11

Notes

Bibliography

Index