Essay On Marriage

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Marriage remains a fundamental milestone in the life of an adult. It is credited as being responsible for an overall improvement in the following aspects of one’s life: finances, physical and spiritual well-being. Fairy tales aptly capture this in the renowned phrase “happily ever after” which often comes after marriage. The recent decades have seen the traditional definition of marriage evolve. Unlike in the past, more and more couples are opting to live together prior to marriage. This is referred to as cohabitation. In the USA, this trend particularly became common from the 1970’s onwards. In fact, statistics indicate that the number of people cohabiting increase tenfold in the period between 1970 and 2000 (Osborne, Berger and Magnunson).

Research indicates that most young people will at some point live with a romantic partner prior to being legally married (Goodwin, Mosher and Chandra.). The United States Department of Health and Human Services indicated carried out a study on cohabitation in 2010. Half of all the women surveyed and nearly half of the women reported that they had cohabited at some point in their lives. The report further pointed what has always been known all along: cohabitation is a short term arrangement. Only 31% of the women who were surveyed and 24% of the men surveyed were in a relationship for more than three years after they began to cohabit (Galena K. Rhoades).
Statistics from the United States Bureau Census Bureau indicate that as of the 2009/2010, the number of young adults between 25 and 34 who were cohabiting exceeded that of married individuals (Lichter, Turner and S.Sassler). The Current Population Survey that was carried out in 2011 indicated that were 7.6 million couples in the USA who were cohabiting.

The largest percentage of cohabitants is comprised of couples who have never been married before. There are two categories in this group: those who cohabitate with the intention of marrying and those who do it with no intention of marrying. The other group of cohabitants is comprised of couples who have either divorced or widowed. As of 2007, more than 25% of cohabiting couples were made of a partner who had been divorced. Many of those who fall into this category are wary of marriage and had opted to screen their partners formalizing their union (Osborne and S.Mclanahan). People over the age of fifty also make up a good percentage of cohabitants. While this category of cohabitants often has no intention of marrying, the quality of their relationships has often been found to be much better than that of their younger counterparts.

Given that older couples are often riddled with life threatening conditions, some states have offered the option of domestic partnerships for older couples. There are also couples who cohabitate since their marriage is not recognized by the law. Gay marriages are not recognized in all the states in USA. Same- sex couples simply opt to move in together as it would be too much of a hustle to move to another state in order to get married. There are also a considerable number of people who regard cohabitation as an alternative to marriage and not necessarily as a prelude to marriage. They simply desire freedom from the norm and in their personal lives.

The reasons for cohabitation among older individuals are different from the reasons among younger individuals. Older individuals tend to cohabitate for more altruistic reasons such as the need for companionship and the need for a custodian of their wealth after their death. Younger females often cohabitate due to the need to be freed from the traditional roles of a woman within the marriage setting, the need for companionship and the e freedom that comes from cohabitation. Younger males tend to cohabitate due to the need to be freed from commitment while still getting benefits associated such as companionship (Rindfuss and Vanheuvel).

In the past cohabitation was more popular among couples who were economically disadvantaged and less educated. The society is becoming more and more receptive towards cohabitation unlike in the past but, there are still those who are opposed to it (Wu and Hart). A survey that was conducted in 2010 revealed that four out of ten Americans thought marriage had become obsolete. In more recent times, it has been found that even the educated and the more economically stable individuals prefer cohabitation to marriage. Research has indicated that 19% of the cohabitating males and 10% of the females have an income that exceeds $50,000 per anna. 20% of the females who were cohabiting had at least a bachelor’s degree (Horn, Xu and Beam).

Cohabitation: traits and reasons
Cohabitation in the United States of America transcends race, religion, socio- economic status and age. The reasons for cohabitation vary from one couple to the other. Cohabitation in the United States of America only lasts for a short period. More than 50% of cohabitants either marry or cohabitate after two years. 40% of cohabitants end their relationships five years after moving in together. More than 50% of cohabitants hope that their relationship will result in marriage within the first three years of living together. More than 50% of the couples who cohabitate pool their resources even though their relationships are often short term. Many of the cohabitating couples opt to raise their children together with statistics indicating that more than 4.2 million children in the United States of America are currently being raised by cohabitating parents (Lichter, Turner and S.Sassler).

In the United States of America, more and more couples are beginning to view cohabitation as a step towards marriage. This notion is however, not supported by family development theorists who recognize only pre-marriage, early marriage, marriage and parenting and other events in these contexts. There are those who cohabitate, but they do not fully understand reasons for doing so(Cowan and Cowan). In such instances, the meaning of cohabitation is not clear to both parties and those around them. Conflict is therefore, likely to define such a relationship as a result of the lack of clear cut definition (Galena K. Rhoades).

One of the major motivations for cohabitation is the financial benefit. Most of poor working class Americans cannot afford to have their dream marriage ceremony. They often reason that since two is better than one; it is easier to live together and combine their resources rather than go it alone. Research has also shown that the middle class are more likely to get married in comparison to the poor. Most of the poor Americans desire to purchase home prior to their marriage (Rindfuss and Vanheuvel). The number of marriage ceremonies performed during economic crisis is significantly lower as compared to the number of ceremonies performed during an economic boom.

Perspectives on cohabitating
Cohabitation remains widely understudied by researchers. Issues such as jealousy and conflict have been well documented in marriage and pre-marriage but not necessarily among cohabitating couples. According to some scholars, the issues affecting the cohabitating couples could be the same as those affecting couples that are dating(such as commitment and jealousy) as well as those affecting married couples( such as in-laws, finances and conflict resolution). Given that cohabitation is not a well defined phase, it is likely that couples who are cohabitating are likely to have more issues as compared to those in clearly defined relationships such as marriage.
A review of studies that have been done in the past in which comparisons between cohabitating relationships and marriages have been made reveal that cohabitating relationships tend to be less satisfying, lacking in commitment, more prone to unresolved conflict and physical assault(Brown and Bulanda). In addition to this, as the couple settles into the relationship during the cohabitation, they are less likely to follow it through with the marriage. In fact, more and more people have been found to be living with multiple partners in the course of their lives prior to settling on the one they will marry (Lichter, Turner and S.Sassler).

The ambiguity of cohabitation has been studied in the past which has resulted in different schools of thought. Some scholars have compared cohabitation to dating while others have compared it to marriage in terms of the structural systems within the relationships such as financial management (Rindfuss and Vanheuvel). In some studies, cohabitation has been compared to dating given that few or no structural aspects could be drawn such as employment and financial management could be drawn between the two(R.Forste and Tanfer). It has also concluded that there are no differences in terms of sexual exclusivity among the dating and cohabitating couples; a finding that only serves to add to confusion in the ambiguity of cohabitation (Stanley and Markman).

Commitment remains one of the basic tenets of a marriage that ultimately determines whether a couple will stay married or get divorced. Marital commitment can be categorized into three: moral, structural and personal commitment. Personal commitment stems from an individual’s identity and attraction to the other party and leads one to do what is expected of them. Moral commitment stems from values inculcated in an individual which forms the basis of an individual’s actions. Structural commitment is based on the external aspects of a relationship such as finances or emotional support. In comparison to those who enter marriage, it has been found that males who live with the future wives are more likely to be less dedicated to them while females who live with the future husbands are likely to be too attached to the individual characters. This stems from a poor personal commitment. Co-habitants are also weak moral commitment towards marriage; a trait that is expressed in their lack of commitment towards their spouses (Stanley and Markman). This predisposes them to divorce quite easily as compared to couples who opt to date and then get married.

Studies have also shown couples who cohabit prior to marriage are more likely to divorce as compared to those who don’t. This is attributed to factors that include but are not limited to the following: to begin with, it has been hypothesized that they are more likely to have a higher expectation of the quality of life they should lead after marriage. When these expectations are not met, it is easy for them to opt out. Co-habitants are also more likely to have poor problem solving capabilities as compared to married individuals. This makes it difficult for them to cope with the problems that crop up in the course of the marriage. Co-habitants are also likely to have a more accepting stance towards divorce as compared to their union making it easy for them to dissolve a union in the event of a marital problem (Galena K. Rhoades).

Cohabitation and marriage have been compared in several studies. Companionship and financial benefit are some of the benefits that are enjoyed by both married individuals and cohabitants. However, marriage is more legally and religiously defined which makes it easier for the parties involved to pursue legal action in the event of a divorce. Cohabitation on the other hand, remains a highly debatable topic in legal circles given that it is not clearly defined in the law. Cohabitation demands little interdependence while marriage demands great personal sacrifices and interdependence between the spouses.

In cohabitation, there is no script that guides the sharing of financial responsibilities or extent of socialization with other members of the family (Taylor, Brown and Lincoln). In marriage, there are clear cut definitions that govern the sharing of any responsibility and the nature of the relations with the extended family. Care giving obligations in marriage are believed to be greater and stronger as compared to cohabitation where the responsibilities are subject to the partners and fleeting depending on the stability of the relationship. Based on these differences, researchers have gone ahead to conclude that cohabiting parents are more similar to single parents than they are to married parents. African American and Hispanic women who are cohabiting have been found to be more open to the idea of parenting while cohabiting as compared to women drawn from other populations (Taylor, Brown and Lincoln).

Resource allocation differs among cohabitants depending on the level of commitment. In one study, it emerged that married couples were more likely to be open towards pooling their resources for the sake of their marriage as compared to cohabitants. On the other hand, cohabiting couples were more likely to hold on to their personal income instead of investing it towards the marriage (Goodwin, Mosher and Chandra.).

Marital status in the USA has often been used in the determination of who qualifies for a tax credit. The extent to which married couples are taxed is dependent on the combined income whereas for a cohabiting individual, it is determined by their personal income. The Internal Revenue recommends that low income couples who are unmarried but live together should file for Earned Income Credit separately. Among the cohabiting parents, the higher earning partner has to demonstrate that his children are dependent on him in order to be eligible for a tax credit. The individual with less income in such a scenario has to file separately as a single individual (Osborne and S.Mclanahan).
The prominence and relevance of marriage in comparison has further been reinforced by research done on the effects of marriage or cohabitation on a child’s well being. Marrying the father of a child is more economically viable for the child as compared to cohabiting with him. Marriage has been found to provide a child with more emotional stability in comparison to cohabitation (Osborne and S.Mclanahan).

Cohabitation from a legal perspective
Like in many other nations, the family structure has undergone considerable changes since the 1970’s. At some point in the history of the United States, it was considered wrong in the eyes of both the society and the law. There were criminal implications imposed on men and women who opted to live together before marriage. From the 1970’s onwards, such legislations began to be challenged. Gradually, most states began to repeal these laws. Some were repealed by state courts; others are no longer being enforced while others were repealed by state legislatures. Currently, the laws against fornication and cohabitation still exist in more than sixteen states in the United States of America but, they are no longer being actively enforced (Lichter, Turner and S.Sassler).

The law offers little protection to individuals who are cohabiting. The United States of America lacks a comprehensive act that expressly grants rights to cohabiting couples. Cohabitants have limited legal rights as compared to those who are married. In fact, cohabiting is not recognized as a legal marital status in most states. Cases in which couples have separated even after cohabitation for years often drag in courts with rulings often being deemed as unfair. For instance, the decision to award or alter alimony to a cohabiting couple often raises concerns on its grounds of fairness. Legally, it is argued that there is room for unfair dispensation of alimony to a cohabitant and there is room for unfair dispensation of alimony to a cohabitant (Horn, Xu and Beam).

Legal proponents of cohabitation argue that cohabitation should be recognized by the states. They propose having Registered Contractual Relationships (RCR) that would allow for cohabiting couples to register within their respective jurisdiction. Such registrations would not require the couple to conduct any official ceremony. This model will give couples more options. It will also allow couples who are cohabiting to be officially recognized by the law. This would allow for legal frameworks to be set up that would enable cohabiting couples to have legally defined means to deal with issues such as child support (Brown and Bulanda).

It would also enhance the freedoms of couples who would want to be free from religious, patriarchal and societal demands that define marriage. The proponents of this arrangement further argue that an alternative to marriage would reduce the harm that is imposed by the symbolism that is often associated with marriage. At the same time, it would allow for the state to address aspects that have previously been ignored due to the lack of legal recognition of cohabitation. This would reduce increased incidences of violence and abuse that have often been found to be high among cohabiting couples (Goodwin, Mosher and Chandra.).

Legally recognized partnership has been enacted in France and Belgium with great success; a trend that legal proponents for cohabitation would like to have replicated in the United States of America. The Pacte Civil de Solidarité (PACS) in France allow both heterosexual and homosexual couples to legally register their unions without having to go through the rigors of getting married. More than a million couples have since registered their unions since the enactment of PACS. Many more continue to register each year. This registration allows couples to secure a better arrangement for themselves but it has since led to a decline in the number of couples who opt to get legally married. While registered unions serve as a prelude to marriage, others may simply view it as an alternative to marriage (Brown and Bulanda).

The proponents for the legal recognition of cohabitation further contend that the limiting of the rights offered to cohabitants has not stopped the proliferation of non marital relationships. The aforementioned statistics are proof of this trend. While it is often argued that marriage offers more rights than cohabitation, many people do not know about these rights until they get divorced. The rights and benefits conferred by marriage have a limited impact on the decision to marry or cohabit.

Overall, the case against cohabitation is much stronger than that for cohabitation. Cohabitation still remains largely undefined within the laws of the United States of America. In spite of its popularity, it is still frowned upon by the society based on the moral expectations. Cohabitants have been found to be more predisposed towards violence, little or no commitment towards their relationships hence the likelihood of the termination of the relationship regardless of its duration. Cohabitants are also not well protected in the law hence in the event of divorce, rulings do not favour them. It is therefore quite common for a matter such as alimony to be awarded to in favour of a party who is not cohabitating. Based on this reasons, it would be better to not cohabitate in the first place.

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