The New Normal?

From JoNel Aleccia:

“It’s becoming more acceptable to be in a long-term, committed relationship without a legal document,” says Pamela J. Smock, director and research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

By the time they’re 20, 1 in 4 women ages 15 to 44 in the U.S. have lived with a man, and by the time they’re 30, that ratio climbs to 3 in 4, the new study shows.

“The question becomes not who cohabits, but who doesn’t?” Smock says.

The survey relies primarily on information from a sample of 12,279 women interviewed between 2006 and 2010 as part of the federal National Survey of Family Growth, with data from previous reports in 1995 and 2002….

Between 1995 and 2006 to 2010, first-time cohabitation jumped by 43 percent for white women, 57 percent for Hispanic women and 39 percent for black women, the study showed. Only Asian women stayed the same, with about 22 percent cohabiting during both time periods.

About 70 percent of women with less than a high-school education moved in with a man as a first union in 2006 to 2010, up from 46 percent in 1995. For women with a bachelor’s degree or higher, 47 percent now live together first, up from about 34 percent in 1995, the study shows.

For all women in the study, cohabitation relationships lasted longer: They averaged 22 months in 2006 to 2010, up from 13 months in 1995.

Those longer relationships include the nearly 20 percent of women who became pregnant in their first year of living with a man outside of marriage. Nearly a quarter of recent births among women ages 15 to 44 occurred while they were cohabiting, up from about 14 percent in 2002.

Such figures are likely unsettling to traditionalists in society. “People will see this as a continued displacement of the importance of marriage,” Smock says.

Indeed, the percentage of women whose first union was a marriage fell to 23 percent in the recent figures, down from 39 percent in 1995, the study shows.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • EricW

    Considering what it costs to get divorced, I can understand this.

  • http://seldomwrong.blogspot.com/2012/03/has-sexual-revolution-been-good-for.html?spref=fb SWNID

    If you think divorce is expensive, try splitting up a cohabiting household with none of the legal or social protections of matrimony.

  • http://morganguyton.wordpress.com Morgan Guyton

    I think we do need to grapple with the fact that for most of time, people got married soon after they were biologically capable of procreation. Fornication is a problem because all idolatry is a problem but there are legitimate causes of this phenomenon that shouldn’t be narrated as (post-civil rights movement) moral decay. I lived with two women before I married; I can testify that my promiscuity has had consequences. Thankfully we’ve gotten through it.

  • AHH

    Morgan @3,
    A history professor once told me that this idea that people in olden times typically got married shortly after puberty was a myth (at least for early modern Europe, her speciality). She said that most people waited until they had the economic wherewithal to live independently, which often took a while. We just get the impression that they were all marrying as teenagers because the famous people like royalty (who did have the economic wherewithal) tended to do so.
    Which is not do diminish the other things Morgan said about consequences of fornication and the fact that various social forces today can make it more challenging to “wait”.

    I would also add the factor that people in their 20s-40s today are more likely to have seen divorce and its bad consequences in their immediate family (and/or for close friends), making them more gun-shy about the marriage commitment.

  • Andrew

    This is a complicated topic. As Morgan noted, one shouldn’t just note this as another example of social mores going to hell post-1960s. For example, the picture of cohabitation across income levels can be very different. For many lower income woman, it is common for a range of men who are not “marriage material” (ie in and out of jail, unemployed, low education) to come in and out of the living arrangements, which also often have children present. This creates serious problems, particularly for the kids involved. On the other hand, many middle-upper income couples live together essentially in a “pre-marriage.” Many of these couples stay together and eventually do get married, but put it off due to a variety of reasons. It’s no accident that this correlates with record figures of student debt for people in their 20s now, as well as less job security in the globalized economy.

    40-50 years ago, a man could graduate high school, marry his sweetheart, and then get a well-paying stable manufacturing job that would pay him a middle class wage, benefits, and “saving for college” wasn’t even an issue for most as public universities, adjusted for inflation, cost a mere fraction of what they do today.
    Those days are long gone, and we shouldn’t be surprised when marriages decline when economically, we don’t have many incentives for people to get married. We are also one of the only countries in the world that doesn’t have mandatory paid maternity leave (let alone paternity leave, which many countries also have). Guatemala and Sudan offer 8 weeks or more of 100% pay for women, and we offer nada. But is this ever brought up when discussing “strengthening the family/family values”? Nope.

  • RDH

    I just read an essay by Jeff Cook elsewhere on this blog about how the Holy Spirit has been speaking to him through the love of a couple of lesbians in church. Perhaps the love of people in cohabitation can also be seen as positive and godly rather than sinful, negative and fornication? I’m a traditionalist and I’m having trouble accepting anything less than monogamous marriage, but I’m trying to be more modern, or is it post-modern? I don’t know; I’m so confused.

  • Rob Henderson

    Are we kidding ourselves? As the LGBT culture clamors for “marriage” recognition for themselves, the overall American culture seems less and less impressed about the necessity of the sacred commitment.

    I find it ironic that over and over Jeremiah beginning with 7:34 speaks of God bringing to “an end the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of the bride and bridegroom…” Several other places (16:9, 22:6, 25:10, 33:11) restate the same.

    I am not in the pre-trib group but I cannot still look at Revelation 18:23- “The voice of the bridegroom and bride will never be heard in you again” without wondering if this “Babylon” of sorts is the fate of our America? How can we say that this nation truly honors God with our lips and our actions?

    Furthermore, I am stunned by the idea that we would be confused about what is holy and what is not; what is the word of the Holy Spirit and what is not.

    I respect my colleagues in this comment thread but I do have a bone to pick. I live in a modern world like everyone else but I refuse to be participate in the notion that cohabitation can be positive and, of all things, godly. Any sexual behavior outside of a one man and one woman marital relationship is wrong and needs repentance. Have we gone mad to think that we need an economic stimulus of some type to encourage people to live correctly.

    The Church has failed at the grass-roots level and government will not correct the problem. I’m not certain of the complete answer but at least part of the answer is for pastors like me (and us perhaps) to stand in our pulpits, with our people as well as beside those in our communities and lovingly proclaim the truth by elevating marriages as God’s way. Believe me, I for one will be on my knees about this issue more than I have.

  • Percival

    Rob,
    Haven’t you heard it is not realistic to expect anyone to restrain their impulses and desires? Also, why should married people be the only ones to have the benefits of marriage. It’s not fair!

    RDH,
    I used to share your confusion, but ever since I stopped trying to make sense of things, my life has gotten easier. I just go with the flow.

  • Adam

    This post makes me laugh. We should stop using the term “cohabitating” and just say premarital sex or even a-marital sex.

    Over the last four years, I have cohabitated with 5 women and 4 men, one of them bi-sexual and one of them gay. My cohabitation has absolutely nothing to do with the gist of this article.

  • Andrew

    #7: Rob, it’s not an “economic stimulus” it’s that people follow economic incentives, be they from the market or the government. If you want to think people were simply more “godly” back in the 50s and 60s, so be it, but the truth is our economy made it much easier for people to get married earlier. Of course there have also been cultural aspects to the decline of marriage (the baby-boomers’ “divorce boom” of the 70s and 80s had tons of negative repurcussions and some of the children of those divorces have been certainly less apt to dive into marriage) and that shouldn’t be ignored, but as stated the reasons are more complicated than simply exclaiming that “America is ignoring God” etc.

    Another, often ignored fact is that the divorce rate has been steadily declining since its 1980 peak and is about back to what it was in 1970.

  • Tom F.

    I don’t think this great either…but…

    Rob: A 20 something couple enters your church. They loosely believe in God, but are not particularly committed. They ask you: “Why should we get married?”. What will you say?


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