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Heterosexual Cohabitation in the United States: Motives for Living Together among Young Men and Women

Publication Abstract

Download PDF versionSmock, Pamela, Penelope M. Huang, Wendy Manning, and Cara A. Bergstrom. 2006. "Heterosexual Cohabitation in the United States: Motives for Living Together among Young Men and Women." PSC Research Report No. 06-606. 8 2006.

Cohabitation has become the modal path to marriage in the U.S. for heterosexual men and women, and is experienced widely whether or not marriage is the result. Consequently, understanding marriage formation, and living arrangements more broadly, requires a nuanced understanding of cohabitation. Drawing on data from 18 focus group interviews (n=138), supplemented by 54 semi-structured interviews with cohabiting working and middle-class young adults, this paper explores motivations and beliefs surrounding reasons to cohabit or refrain from doing so. Findings suggest that primary motives to cohabit include spending more time together due to affection, attraction, and logistics; sharing expenses; and evaluating compatibility. Notably, results also indicate gender differences in how cohabitation is perceived. Of concern to men is a perceived loss of freedom associated with cohabitation, while women voice concerns that cohabitation decreases their bargaining power and can delay marriage. Moreover, the ultimate goal of cohabitation for women is typically marriage, while, for men, the linkage between cohabitation and marriage is weaker. Our results suggest that gendered cultural schemas shape cohabiting unions, implying a gender gap in the perceived role of cohabitation in the courtship and marriage process.

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