Essay on Cohabitation





Essay on Cohabitation


Cohabitation has increased over the past 50 years in American families. It is considered one of the rapidest growing family forms in the United States and is the most dramatic alteration in family structure affecting the life course of American families today (James & Beattie, 2012). In 1997, 4.13 million couples were cohabitating outside of marriage; a significant increase in the number of couples cohabitating from 0.5 million recorded in 1960 (Horn, 2006).  Even adjusting for overall population increase, this still constitutes a five-fold increase in cohabitation rates over that period. As Cherlin (2009) pointed out, cohabitation is often being used among Americans today in the process of courtship as a model toward marriage. Three fifths of woman who married between 1997 and 2001 were cohabitating prior to marriage (Kennedy & Bumpass, 2008). Also, research indicates that the majority of emerging adults have cohabitated at some point in their lives (Chandra, Martinez, Mosher, Abma, & Jones, 2005).

Scholarly research on the effects of cohabitation on subsequent martial success and happiness is somewhat contradictory. For example, Legkauskas (2008) argued that cohabitation did not impact the success of marriage. Tolson (2000) estimated that 55% of cohabiting relationships lead to marriage, and 40% of cohabiting relationships end within 5 years.  Though these statistics may seem favorable, at first glance, for half of cohabitors, other research has revealed that cohabitation compared to marriage has some negative outcomes. The majority of the research for the last 14 years has documented that cohabitation increases the risk of divorce and results in short-lived marriages.  According to James and Beattie (2012), cohabitation is positively related to conflict and negatively related to communication and marital happiness. Additionally, cohabitating couples experience more depression, less sexual satisfaction, and more difficulty with problem solving than married couples (Brown, 2000; Cohan & Kleinbaum, 2002; Giesen & Treas, 2000; Hsueh, 2009).   Stafford, Kline, and Rankin (2004) found that cohabitating couples were at a significantly greater risk for poorer marital outcomes than were those who did not live together until after getting married.   Essay on Cohabitation

A study illustrated that “satisfied marriage” is longer lasting and more solid compared with “satisfied cohabitation” (Bouchard,  2006, p. 54).  Researchers indicated that cohabitating relationships are characterized by lower quality and less satisfaction than marital relationship, especially when cohabitation is long-term (Brown, 2004; Stafford, Kline, & Rankin, 2004).

Some research suggests that the relationship satisfaction of married and cohabitating couples varies by race and ethnicity, though the picture drawn from this research is somewhat confusing and contradictory. Phillips and Sweeney (2005), for example, found that cohabitation is associated with relationship instability among non-Hispanic-white couples but not among non-Hispanic-blacks or Mexicans. Other research found that cohabitating black couples report lower relationship satisfaction than white couples (Adelman, Chadwick, & Baerger, 1996).  Research that clarifies the relationships, if any, between cohabitation, subsequent marital success, and race and ethnicity would be a very useful contribution.

To address these issues, one might begin by asking exactly how race and ethnicity would impact the role of cohabitation. This gets to the heart of what the self-imposed label of race and ethnicity really represents. Here it is proposed that race and ethnicity essentially reflect a cultural context involving many different aspects of individual and social life, all of which can have a significant influence on the roles and implications of cohabitation. These ideas have been somewhat inspired by the work of Ono and Lee-Schultz (2012), who compared overall happiness with life in general between married and cohabitating couples in different cultural contexts, where “cultural context’” was defined by the country of residency. These authors found that the “happiness gap” between married and cohabitating couples increased as the society became less gender-egalitarian, and as the role of religion in society increased.  Thus, they looked specifically at two aspects of cultural context (p. 24).

The present study investigates the differences in relationship satisfaction, as opposed to satisfaction with life in general, between married and cohabiting couples, and specifically how this difference might depend on race and ethnicity.  It tests two hypotheses.  First, it is expected that married couples will have higher relationship satisfaction than cohabitating couples. Secondly, it is expected that the effect of marital status on relationship satisfaction will vary by race and ethnicity.

Method-essay on Cohabitation


The data used for this project was taken from the Married and Cohabitating Couples dataset, a repository of information created and maintained at the National Center for Family & Marriage Research (NCFMR) at Bowling Green University, Bowling Green Kentucky.  The center used data collected by Knowledge Networks (KN), a proprietary company that has created an extensive database of information on American households that they claim is representative of the entire U.S. population.  The information was collected by KN from a pool of panelists via online survey.  A detailed description of the data collection methods used by KN can be accessed on their website:  The data set includes information from 752 married and 323 cohabitating heterosexual couples, ranging from 18-64 years of age. Racial and ethnic groups represented included: Whites, African American, Hispanic, Mixed Race, and a few other groups. Data collection took place from July 26, 2010, to October 13, 2010.

The sample is half male (1075, 50.0%) and half female (1075, 50.0%).  Age groups include 18-29 (n = 359, 16.7%), 30-44 (n = 777, 36.1%), 45-59 (n = 837, 38.9%), and 60+ (n = 177, 8.2%). For race/ethnicity, the figures are White/Non-Hispanic (n = 1731, 80.5%), Black/Non-Hispanic (n = 107, 5.0%), Other/Non-Hispanic (n =167, 4.9), Hispanic (n = 167, 7.8%), 2+Races/Non-Hispanic (n = 39, 1.8%). Highest Educational attainment among the participants are Less-than High-School (n  = 115, 5.3%), High School (n = 500, 23.3%), Some College (n =786, 36.6%), Bachelor’s degree or higher (n = 749, 34.8%).

Instrument-essay on Cohabitation

A single survey item from a list of 256 items used in the NCFMR study was taken to be the dependent variable in the present study. In particular, participants were asked to respond to the following question: “To what extent do you agree with the following statement: “our relationship has changed for the worse”. This item was intended to be a measure of relationship satisfaction. We examine the relationship between the responses to this item, and responses to items about race and ethnicity and marital status.


Out of a pool of 2150 participants, 70 records were discarded due to their ineligibility, leaving a total sample of 2080. Some records were excluded because they did not complete the survey item of interest. Also, several categories in the marital status variable were not used because the dependent variable does not apply to them. Excluded categories include ‘never married’ and ‘divorced’.

I used dummy coding to recode the marital status variable, changing it from a categorical variable to a dichotomous, quantitative variable.  Married couples were given value of 0 and cohabiting couples were given a value of 1.

Statistical Analysis-essay on Cohabitation

A two-way independent ANOVA was used to test the hypotheses. In the analysis, the dependent variable is the response of the participant to the following survey question: ” To what extent do you agree with this statement “Our relationship has changed for the worse”.  Responses ranged from 1-“strongly agree” to 5-“strongly disagree”.  There are two independent variables/factors. The first variable/factor, ‘marital status’, includes the following levels: married and cohabitatingWhile main effects may well be of interest, our primary interest is on the interaction effect between marital status and ethnicity.

Table 1

Descriptive Statistics

Marital Status Mean SD
Married 4.19 1.011
Cohabitating 3.98 1.122


Table 2

Descriptive Statistics

Race/Ethnicity Mean SD
White/Non-Hispanic 4.13 1.048
Black/Non-Hispanic 3.92 1.061
Other/Non-Hispanic 4.07 .953
Hispanic 4.18 1.005
2+Races/Non-Hispanic 3.95 1.432




The ANOVA Result

There was a non-significant main effect for marital status on the respondents’ view of the relationship, F(1, 2070) = .564, p = .453, = 0. There was also a non-significant main effect of race/ethnicity on the respondents’ view of the relationship, F(4, 2070) = .984, p = .415,  = 0 . However, there was a significant interaction between marital status and race/ethnicity, F( 4, 2070) = 2.582. p = .036,  = .003. Because the interaction was significant, a simple effects analysis was conducted to explore the nature of this interaction by examining the difference between groups within one level of the independent variables.

Simple Effects Analysis-essay on Cohabitation

Among white, non-Hispanic respondents, the view of the relationship was more negative among the cohabitating group than among the married group (p < 0.01, . However, the view of the relationship was similar for married and cohabitating couples among black, non-Hispanic (p = .279, , other non-Hispanic (p = .836, , Hispanic (p = .533, and among couples that identified as mixed race, non Hispanic (p = .127,  (see Table 3 and Figure 1).

Table 3

Descriptive Statistics

Race/Ethnicity Cohabitated Couples Married Couples
White, non-Hispanic 3.94 1.182 4.21 .991
Black, non- Hispanic 4.04 .895 3.79 1.264
Other, non-Hispanic 4.10 .885 4.05 .985
Hispanic 4.23 .831 4.13 1.105
2 + Races, non-Hispanic 3.70 1.490 4.21 1.357
Total 3.98 1.122 4.19 1.011

















Figure 1 Simple Effects Analysis


Discussion-essay on Cohabitation



The present study tests two hypotheses. First, it was expected that married couples would have a higher relationship satisfaction than cohabitating couples. The findings suggest that there is no difference between married and cohabitating couple’s relationship satisfaction. However, there are some important concerns that must be kept in mind relating to this result. Union transition is one of these concerns that effect participant’s relationship satisfaction. People who experience divorce may have more positive attitudes about cohabitation than about marriage (Cunningham & Thornton, 2005).  We do not know the marital history of the respondents in our study, only that they are either currently married or cohabitating.

Also, non-marital birth is considered a major predictor of relationship quality among cohabitating and married couples (Tach, & Halpern-Meekin, 2009). The data used in this study do not include information about whether cohabitating couples have children, or whether married couples had children prior to marriage. Furthermore, research indicates that there are characteristics that are correlated with happiness in a relationship such as income (Blanchflower & Oswald, 2004), the presence of children (McLanahan & Adams, 1987), religious involvement (Stark & Maier, 2008). I have not explicitly considered these factors in the present study.

In our second hypothesis, it was expected that the effect of marital status on relationship satisfaction would vary by race and ethnicity. This idea was inspired by the findings of Lee and Ono (2012) who explored the influence of cultural context on the relationship between relationship satisfaction and cohabitation, where cultural context was defined as country of residency. The authors found that the “happiness gap” between married and cohabitating couples increased as the society became less gender-egalitarian and as the role of religion increased. The present study expanded upon their work in several ways. First, Lee and Ono used general happiness while the present study focused specifically on happiness in the relationship. Also, this study uses race and ethnicity to define the cultural context, and it targets a more specific population than did Lee and Ono.  Ultimately, the present study suggests that there is a significant gap in relationship satisfaction between married and cohabitating couples among  white, non-Hispanics but not in the other racial and ethnic groups as a result of discordant cultural context.

Limitations-essay on Cohabitation

A limitation of this study was the difficulty in finding adequate data on demographic information for participants such as their religion and their education which could strengthen the current study.  Another limitation is that the data violated several assumptions of the ANOVA procedure: specifically, the assumptions of normality and homogeneity.  An effort was made to transform the data and conduct the analysis again in order to meet the assumptions, but the assumptions were still violated. Moreover, a huge difference in sample size existed among the racial and ethnicity groups, possibly making the results less reliable.  The possibility of the interaction between partners while completing the online research questionnaires, which should be answered individually, is another limitation of this study.   Therefore, to improve future research, it would be beneficial to include different data collection methods, such as interviews, direct observation, and self-reporting.  It might also be useful to include more information on personal context, such as the duration of relationship, parenting styles in partner’s family of origin, partner’s religion and beliefs, as well as possible mental health issues so as to discern how these factors influence relationship satisfaction between cohabitating couples and married couples apart from their race and ethnicity. Paying attention to all these factors could improve the accuracy and reliability of the research findings or results.

Recommendation for Future Research-essay on Cohabitation

Future research should investigate deeply the process by which the experiences of living together in cohabitation, as well as, the influence of personal factors such as premarital childbearing, duration of relationship, parenting styles in partner’s family of origin, partner’s religion and beliefs and mental health issues may generate lower marital quality. Furthermore, distinguishing couples who cohabitated before marriage from couples who did not, as well as, shedding more light on the process of union formation itself might be helpful.  With regard to union formation processes, one could examine the transition phases among dating couples with particular attention to the transition from dating to cohabitation, as well as, the transition from cohabitation into marriage.  Learning more about the processes should give researchers a better understanding of the causes of variation in relationships quality among married and cohabitating couples.