Info from the National Survey of Families and Households on Why People Cohabit and Do Not Cohabit
  • All of this information comes from the 1987 National Survey of Families and Households. The questions are asked of all non-married people in the sample under 35 and all people in the sample over 35 who are cohabiting.
  • The most common "important" reason people cohabit is to learn about their partner. 50% say that learning about a potential marriage partner is a very important reason to cohabit. No other reason is close.

  • The most important reason not to cohabit is emotional risk, though other reasons including parents, morals, finances, commitment, and faithfulness are important to a significant group as well.

    Responses Disaggregated by Other Variables
  • Relationship Type
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Education
  • Gender
  • Age
  • Frequency of Attending Religious Services
  • Religious Fundamentalism
  • Ordered Probit Regression Results
  • Notes
  • Responses to reasons to cohabit do not vary with relationship type. But responses to reasons to not cohabit do vary. Married people worried about only commitment and faithfulness, while cohabitors are much more worried about emotional risk, finances, parents, and morals.

  • Responses do not vary significantly by race.

  • Responses do not vary significantly by religion.

  • Education has some effect on responses. More education reduces frequency of the importance of all reasons to cohabit except learning. It also reduces the frequency of the importance of finances, commitment, and faithfulness as reasons to not cohabit.

  • Gender has no effect on responses about reasons to cohabit. Women are much more frequently worried about the emotional risk associated with cohabitation, but there are no other significant differences between men and women with respect to responses about reasons to not cohabit.

  • Older people are much more likely to want to cohabit for sex and are much less likely to want to cohabit to learn about their partner. And here everyone thought that young people were sex-crazed. Older people are also less likely to think that there are any good reasons not to cohabit. Maybe it's a hippy generation thing. More likely, it is that older people are asked these questions only if they are cohabiting while all non-married people under 35 are asked the questions.

  • Responses do not vary significantly by frequency of attending religious services.

  • There are three questions measuring degree of religious fundamentalism. The first is how much the respondent agrees with the statement, "The Bible is God's word, and everything happened or will happen exactly as it says." There is no significant difference in the responses for reasons to cohabit between fundamentalists and non-fundamentalists. Surprisingly, fundamentalists are less concerned about moral issues with respect to reasons not to cohabit than non-fundamentalists.

  • The second is how much the respondent agrees with the statement, "The Bible is the answer to all important human problems." There is still no significant difference in the responses for reasons to cohabit. The differences in responses for reasons to not cohabit are not as large as for the first question but have the same qualitative characteristics.

  • The third is how much the respondent agrees with the statement "I regard myself as a religious fundamentalist." For this question, the differences in responses are all pretty small.

    Notes
  • For the sake of this page, "important" is defined as giving a score of 6 or 7 on a scale of 1 to 7.
  • For the sake of this page, "fundamentalist" is defined as agreeing with a score of 4 or more on a scale of 1 to 7.
  • Possible reasons allowed for cohabiting are:
    Commitment: Requires less commitment than marriage
    Sex: Better sex life than dating
    Living expenses: Opportunity to share living expenses
    Faithfulness: Does not require as much sexual faithfulness as marriage
    Learning: Provides an opportunity to learn about partner prior to marriage
    Independence: Allows for more independence than marriage
  • Possible reasons allowed for not cohabiting are:
    Emotional Risk: There is more emotional risk than when dating
    Friends: Friends would disapprove
    Parents: Parents would disapprove
    Morals: It is morally wrong
    Finances: It is financially risky relative to dating
    Commitment: It requires more commitment than dating
    Faithfulness: It requires more sexual faithfulness than dating
  • The age cutoff for old vs. young is 50.
  • One is considered attending religious services frequently if one attends at least twice a month.
  • Definitions of variables and values are defined in the codebook. Back to Steven Stern's home page
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