The western cultures have come a long way from arranged and forced marriages. While people were previously prohibited from cohabitation by stern religious and cultural factors, the practice has become commonplace in the modern world. In the United States for instance, the number cohabiting couples increased to more than 4 million in 1997 from under 500,000 in 1960. The practice remained illegal in 50 states up until the year 1970. Children who were born in, or living in such relationships also increased. Cohabitation refers to a couple living together in a long-term or permanent sexual relationship without marrying by law or custom. Conservative cultural and religious practices have lost much of their authority and society has become increasingly permissive. This paper asserts that the increasing rates of partners living together before marriage stems from the disintegration of the institution of marriage, social permissive and financial difficulties.
Perhaps one of the most important motivations for cohabiting couples is the need to establish their compatibility with their partners in order to avoid being tied down to unhappy marriages. As such, cohabitation has not only become a form of advanced courtship as against being an immoral act, but has also become a practical solution for couples that are simply not ready enough to commit to marriage. The reasons for the lack of preparedness are many and varied. They include the fact that some young couples lack the financial means and the maturity to get married. Financial preparedness is without question a major factor in many relationships today.
According to Lenshek (1999, p. 8) as many as 2.9 million cohabiting couples in the United Stated cited financial practicality as a reason. This is in turn a function of an increasingly material world, which has resulted in financial security being a major determinant of any marriage’s survival. It is, however, impossible to discount the existence of genuine love and affection among the couples. The commitment to one another is unnecessary for cohabiting couples, but most of these coupled live in hope of building strong relationships that can lead to marriage. They simply need to avoid making mistakes, not least because of the high cases of divorces, which have forced many youths that have grown up in this generation to approach marriages more cautiously that was the case in the past.
On the other hand, Lenshek (1999) argues that the actual reasons for cohabitations lie in the fact that the social stigma associated with the practices vanished, and it is place, arose a pragmatic attitude towards marriage. Effectively, most couples that find themselves in cohabiting relationships only do so because of a moral vacuum in society. This assertion is backed up by statistical evidence that points to the fact that the number of cohabiting couples that finally get married is quickly declining, effectively refuting the argument that cohabitation builds compatibility. According to a study by Manning & Cohen (2012), there is a positive association between marital dissolution and cohabitation, and that marital commitment prior to actual cohabitation was dependent on the possible risks of marital instability. Similarly, the socioeconomic situation in the modern world is such that children live independently from their families much earlier, and may remain so for long durations. They leave home at the ages of sixteen and eighteen to attend colleges and/or find employment, after which they begin independent lives. The lack of direct parental supervision creates a vacuum of authority within which cohabitation may occur.
Manning & Cohen (2012, p.384) asserts that if indeed the driving force behind the rising cases of cohabitation is financial pragmatism and convenience, then this should be the motivation for increased marriages in the first instance. If young people believe that moving in together will save expenses, then this is even more reason they should get legal protections. Marriages would guarantee the financial stability that young people are after. Marriage is no longer an ordained institution in many societies. Many young people recognize the importance of such a union, but the high divorce rates, established in empirical evidence points to the opposite possibility. While the causes for cohabitation are multiple and varied, the underlying factor remains the fact that marriage has lost its standing is society, or at least institutions such as religion and culture that supported it, have lost their importance.
Lenshek, Daniel. A pastoral Letter on Cohabitation Before Marriage. Kansas: Kansas Catholic Conference, 1999.
Manning, Wendy, D. and Jessica, A. Cohen. "Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Dissolution: An Examination of Recent Marriages." J Marriage Fam. 74(2) (2012): 377–387.
Probert, Rebecca. The Changing Legal Regulation of Cohabitation: From Fornicators to Family, 1600–2010. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 2012.