According to W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, a new paper from RAND reports a surprising disparity in commitment levels between men and women who cohabit.
In their study, sociologists Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris asked respondents "how committed are you to your relationship with [partner]?” with responses ranging from 1 (“completely committed”) to 5 (“not at all committed”). Further, respondents were asked how likely their relationships with their partners were permanent, ranging from 1 (“almost certain”) to 5 (“almost no chance”).
They found that the majority of cohabiting men (52%) are not "almost certain" that their relationship is permanent. In addition, a large minority (41%) say they are not "completely committed" to their live-in girlfriend.
This is in stark contrast to cohabiting women who are much more committed to the relationship than their partners. Only 39 percent of women say they are not "absolutely certain" that their relationship will last and only 26 percent say they're not "completely committed."
These results show a considerable divide between what men and women expect from one another who enter into a cohabiting relationship.
"This study's findings about low commitment and the gender mismatch in cohabiting adults' expectations suggest three cautionary notes for young adults considering moving in together," Wilcox writes.
First, he urges couples to talk about the future with women warned to be aware that cohabiting can be an obstacle rather than a precursor to marriage.
Second, couples should share common goals for their relationship. This is important, Wilcox says, because " . . . given the disparate purpose cohabitation now serves --different people see it variously as a courtship phase, an economical way to save on rent, a venue for convenient sex, a prelude to getting serious, or an alternative to marriage -- young adults often end up living with someone who doesn't share their relational goals."
Third, be careful not to "slide into marriage," he says. "The only thing worse than being in a relationship for years with an uncommitted person, it would seem, is marrying one."
Research has found that some couples get married just because it's what everyone expects, but if they don't purposely decide to deepen their commitment to one another, they're much more likely to end up divorced.
This is evidenced by studies which found that women who cohabit prior to engagement are 40 percent more likely to divorce than women who did not cohabit; however, couples who cohabit after an engagement do not face a higher risk of divorce. This is because the latter have decided to deepen their commitment before cohabiting, rather than the former who simply "slides" into marriage because it's expected.
Researchers have found that "sliders" are more likely than "deciders" to cohabit prior to an engagement, and to have trouble in their marriage if they go on to tie the knot, Wilcox reports. Whereas couples who move in together after a public engagement or wedding are more likely to enjoy a shared commitment that will enable their relationship to last.
"So, given the low levels of commitment and the gender mismatch in expectations often found among today's cohabiting couples, young men and especially women who aspire to a strong and stable marriage should take caution when considering moving in together." Wilcox advises.
"A live-in relationship that begins brightly, but without the benefit of a serious shared commitment, often ends on a dark note."
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