It is true that the changes of cultural and social forces have made marriage less important to American family lives. Earlier women tended to leave home at the age of 20 or 21 to marry men who were also in their early twenties (Qu and Suriano 15). During that time unmarried women were seen as “frustrated spinsters”. The term spinster is rarely used nowadays, and the age of marriage and people’s attitude towards marriage and family has changed.
In fact, family relationships and structures have faced rapid changes in the modern era. People now postpone marriage to later ages or more couples now live without getting married, either as an alternative to marriage or as an alternative to living alone. For instance, between 1971 and 2001, the proportion of men aged 25-29 who had never married increased from 26% to 69%, while the proportion of women of this age group who had never married increased from 12% to 54 %( Qu and Suriano 1).
Of course, due to social and cultural forces change, family relationships are more complicated than they have ever been before. Long gone are the days of breadwinner dad, housewife mum, and the obligatory children. Today, marriage is not the only way to form couple relationship. Cohabitation has gained social acceptance and is now widely seen as a prelude to marriage. It has developed as a novel family form in contrast with conventional marriage and is replacing marriage as the first living together experience for young men and women. The most recent U.S. census reveals that the marriage rate is declining steeply. Only 24% of households are made up of a married couple. To the contrary, the number of unmarried couple households rose from 500,000 in 1970 to 5 million in 2004(Brickner 4). Most Americans said that it is hard to believe that across America, thirty years ago, living together for unmarried couples was against the law, and it was considered immoral.
While preparing this paper, I have talked to at least forty students to know their idea on this issue. Fortunately, 90% of these students have been either cohabitated or married before. Almost all of these students supported cohabitation, and more than half of them would not marry at all in their later life because they are scared of the social and legal responsibilities that come with marriage.
Many believe that cohabitation before marriage is a good way to achieve some of the benefits of marriage and avoid the risk of divorce. They said that a couple who lives together can share expenses and learn more about each other. They can find out if their partner has what it takes to be married. If things do not work out, breaking up is easy to do. Cohabiting couples do not have to seek legal or religious permission to dissolve their union. So, not surprisingly young adults favor cohabitation.
So, if cohabitation leads to marriage, as it is stated above, why do not the numbers of married couples increase as the number of cohabitated couples? Instead, what is happening is to the contrary. Marriage is shrinking at an alarming rate, and many studies have proven this. We can also question that why we have high divorce rate if many of the couples are married after knowing each other through cohabitation. The truth is that those who live together before marriage lack commitment and responsibility. Many of them have no plans for the future and no official pronouncement of love. They have only emotional bond, and their commitment to living together is based on whether or not they are happy in the relationship. Researchers have proved that pre-marital cohabitation is more likely to lead to divorce. David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead in their article entitled “Should We Live Together?” explain that cohabiting couples who marry are more likely to divorce than non-cohabiters who marry. The reason for this, as the researchers clearly stated, higher marital failure rate among cohabiters is