Marriage Culture In The Us Essay, Research Paper
The culture that exists in America is one that is constantly changing to suit the times and the many different types of people that reside in the country. One aspect of American culture that has changed profoundly is the institution of marriage. Marriage began as the undisputed lifestyle for couples willing to make the ultimate commitment to one another. However in less than a century, pointless and destructive alternatives such as premarital cohabitation, have developed to replace marriage.
Heterosexual cohabitation is essentially one man and one woman, living together who are in a committed relationship. According to recent census data, an estimated four million unmarried heterosexual couples are living together in the United States; a number which has doubled since the 1980’s.(Warner1/3) In fact, cohabitation was illegal in all fifty states prior to 1970.(Popenoe “Should”) In the year 1965, only ten percent of newlywed couples had lived together before marriage; presently the statistic has risen to fifty percent.(Tolson) The reasons for the new found acceptance of cohabitation are obvious. The sexual revolution, which began in the sixties, played a major role in changing the attitudes towards premarital sex. The media has taken advantage of this revolution and has been a prominent cause in the spread of acceptance towards sexual openness. Presently, it is not unusual for young adults to be sexually active with more than one partner before their first marriage.
This societal acceptance has made it easier for couples to live together without being married. Many of these men and women decide to live together because they consider the cohabitation a “trial marriage.” They feel that since they are able to learn about each other’s faults and living habits before marriage, it will help them to avoid divorce. If they decide to marry, they can compromise living arrangements and fix faults early, and if they decide against marriage, the breaking up process will be simpler without legal and religious hassles. However, David Popenoe, professor of sociology, who works closely with Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, co. director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, explain that research specifically indicates that “Living together before marriage increases the risk of divorce. One study found an increased risk of forty-six percent.”(Popenoe “Cohabitation”) Divorce rates have climbed substantially; between 1970 and 1978 there was a 91 percent increase in the divorce rates and from 1960 to 1980, the rate has climbed to 157 percent.(Mitchelson 16) Research of cohabitation has strongly displayed that the risk of divorce after marriage is substantially raised if the couple lives together prior to their union.
Many reasons for divorce among cohabitation exist. David Popenoe suggests that the most obvious explanation for the high divorce rate is that cohabiting relationships undercut the strong ethic by which marriages are held together. He explains that
Those people willing to cohabit are more unconventional than others and less committed to the institution of marriage. These are the same people then, who more easily will leave a marriage if it becomes troublesome. According to recent studies cohabitants tend not to be as committed as married couples in their dedication to the continuation of the relationship and reluctance to terminate it, and they are more oriented toward their own personal autonomy.(”Should”
Cohabitation becomes damaging even to the possibility of marriage. The demographers at Pennsylvania State conducted a study in 1997 which insisted that cohabitants are not only more accepting of divorce, but become less enthusiastic about marriage and childbearing.(Popenoe “Should”) Divorce has become contagious, and with the rise in acceptance in premarital cohabitation, society can predict that the institution of marriage will weaken more as the divorce rates rise.
It is not surprising that many sources exist on the legal aspects of cohabitation since it is becoming widely accepted. Cohabitants often believe that economic benefits exist in cohabitation that do not in marriage such as having separate property and monetary situations. This retains the feeling of independence for cohabitants. However this argument is invalid once a couple obtains a joint account or purchases anything jointly. Also having separate finances is not an accurate portrayal of how the couple’s financial situation will be once they marry since they will be sharing everything at that point. These couples emphasize the importance of independence, however the increased feeling of separation produces the situation in which the cohabitants are less likely to be successful in their marriage since it requires the complete sharing of lives.
Obviously, people decide to marry because they love and respect each other and choose to spend the rest of their lives together, happily. Happiness and contentment are major components of marriage that keep the bond strong. The independence that cohabitation produces depletes the support mechanism that produces much of the blissful happiness contained in a relationship. Women in cohabiting situations often feel that they are being used for sexual and housekeeping purposes only, which may cause anger and depression. When discussing cohabitation as an alternative to marriage Popenoe states that, “Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples.” He also explains that, “Some research has shown that aggression is at least twice as common among cohabitors as it is among married partners.”(”Should”) This aggression leads to an unsafe environment for those who cohabit. Most couples who decide to cohabit are acting impulsively based on emotions without considering the prominent negative consequences. The likeliness of divorce alone with the higher occurrence of depression produces an increase in the chance of domestic violence between cohabitors.(Tolson) The increase in depression, aggression, likelihood of divorce and domestic violence provides strong evidence that the permanence of the cohabitation relationship is bleak, and the possibility of a future marriage to that partner is not only unlikely but undesirable.
Obviously, the problems and harmful environment that premarital cohabitation can produce becomes more complex once children are involved. In seven out of every ten cohabiting household, both partners are under the age of forty-five.(Mitchelson 15) According to Popenoe,
In 1997, thirty six percent of unmarried-couple households included a child under eighteen….For married couples in the twenty-five to thirty-four age group the percentage with children is higher still, approaching half of all such households. By one recent estimate nearly half of all children today will spend time in a cohabiting family before age sixteen.(”Should”)
Couples who have children from previous relationships should definitely avoid cohabiting for the sake of the children. Children need permanence, stability and familiarity in order to grow up secure and stable. Cohabitation relationships retain the high risk of breaking up and seventy-five percent of children born to cohabiting parents will see them break up before the age of sixteen. This is a large percentage when compared to the fact that only one third of children born to married couples see their parents split.(Popenoe “Should”) Popenoe states that one reason for this is that marriage rates have been plummeting and explains that, “In the last decade, the proportion of cohabiting mothers who go on to eventually marry the child’s father declined from fifty-seven percent to forty-four percent.”(”Should”) When married couples with children divorce, and one parent cohabits in their current new relationship, their lifestyle whill be considered in the custody hearing. A Judge always considers the child’s best interested and therefore the lifestyle of each parent must be considered. Attorneys Ralph Warner, Toni Ihara and Frederick Hertz assert that in some states, “A parent’s cohabitation can still be legal grounds for a judge to use to deny custody.”(8/8) The book written by these three attorneys, Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples, produced an example of this in which, “An Arkansas court stated ‘a mother’s ongoing relationship was immoral, failed to set a proper example for children and resulted in harm to the children’.”(Warner 8/8) Studies have shown that children from intact families have significantly higher academic performance and less behavioral problems than those currently living with a mother and her unmarried partner.(Popenoe “Should”)
Evidently, not only judges and researchers feel that premarital cohabitation is immoral and harmful. Opponents of cohabitation include those people who are religious, who have strong personal values and those who are strong advocates for children and families. Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who embodies all of these characteristics, constantly advises Americans who seek her advice on her radio and television show, to stay clear of the “Shacking Up” trend that has swept across the country because of its damaging effects on children and family values. Some who are very religious believe that the sanctity of marriage becomes undermined once cohabitation takes place especially since premarital sex is involved. Moreover, personal values become diminished when an adult makes the irresponsible decision to cohabit when so many negative consequences follow. It is morally incorrect to place oneself, a loved one or one’s children in a situation that poses the possibility of damaging all relationships involved as well as the personal feelings, moral values, ideas and potentials of each; especially those of the children.