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"Everything's There Except Money": How Money Shapes Decisions to Marry Among Cohabitors

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionSmock, Pamela, Wendy Manning, and Meredith Porter. 2004. ""Everything's There Except Money": How Money Shapes Decisions to Marry Among Cohabitors." PSC Research Report No. 04-564. September 2004.

Unmarried cohabitation has become increasingly prominent in the United States and a growing literature has sought to understand the factors that spur cohabiting couples to marry. While quantitative studies suggest that good economic circumstances are associated with marriage, the mechanisms and the sequencing through which economics influence marriage are less well understood. Drawing on data from 115 in-depth interviews with cohabiting young adults from the working and middle classes, this paper explores whether and in what ways economic circumstances shape perspectives on marriage. We find that cohabitors typically perceive finances as important for marriage, with common themes including having "enough" money, being able to afford a "real" wedding, having achieved a set of financial goals prior to marriage (e.g., home ownership, financial stability), and the ability of the male partner to be an economic provider. While some social scientists have speculated that cohabitors must think that something will change in their lives in order to motivate marriage, our findings suggest that cohabitors think marriage should occur once something has already changed; that is, marriage does not mean that you are working to become financially comfortable, but that you already are.

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