Attitudes, Values, and the Entrance into Cohabitational Unions

by Marin Clarkberg, Ross Stolzenberg, Linda Waite

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Although people who are currently cohabiting differ from the married and single across a wide range of political, religious, and social attitudes, we know little about the extent to which preexisting attitudes and values may have affected their decision to cohabit. The research presented here examines the effect of values and attitudes measured prior to union formation on choice of cohabitation vs. marriage for first coresidential union. The authors' findings show strong support for the argument that values and attitudes play a causal role in the formation of unions; people who choose to cohabit were significantly different prior to their decision to cohabit both from people who married and from people who stayed single. These pre-existing differences appear along a variety of attitude and value dimensions including the importance of marriage and family, the value of career success and stable employment, and the importance of money and leisure time for one's own pursuits. Cohabitors also differ in their sex-role attitudes and participation in religious organizations. The effect of many of these attitudes on the propensity to cohabit differs for men and women. But both men and women who appear to reject the constraints and demands of traditional gender roles within marriage are more likely than others to choose an informal union, which may carry fewer demands for sex-typical or sex-traditional behavior than does marriage. Not only does cohabitation seem to offer an alternative to marriage as a tentative, nonlegal form of a coresidential union but, more broadly, its attitudinal antecedents seem to favor a different style of life in general.

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