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Living arrangements discussed

Marcela Berrios | Friday, September 29, 2006

The topic of unmarried cohabitation among couples in the U.S. took center stage at Notre Dame Thursday.

As part of the Provost’s Distinguished Women’s Lecturer Series, guest speaker Pamela Smock, from the Sociology department at the University of Michigan, addressed the increasingly common phenomenon.

The lecture analyzed the trend demographically, providing insight pertaining to the effects of socioeconomic standing and race on the probability that a couple will share a roof out of wedlock.

The demographic approach also guarantees quick, revealing statistics to boggle the mind.

Smock said 33 percent of college-educated women will have cohabited with a man before marrying him.

Women without a high school diploma, on the other hand, are 60 percent inclined to move in with their partners, and marriage is a less likely outcome for the pair.

Smock said cohabitation is also more widespread amongst lower class blacks and Hispanics.

Smock argued privileged classes will use cohabitation as an entry into marriage – a way to take the relationship to a more intimate level before making the ultimate commitment.

“In the past there seemed to be a less emphasis on really knowing someone before marrying that person,” sophomore Elaine Zarzana said.

Lower classes, on the other hand, more often practice cohabitation for its convenience, Smock said.

Rent and utilities are more affordable when the costs are shared with someone else, she said.

Whichever the reason may be, Smock argued that cohabitation as not a thing of the past. “Cohabitation is here to stay,” she said. “It has forever transformed the traditional courtship and dating processes. It is almost as if a new level of intimacy has been added; somewhere between engaging in sexual relations and marriage is ‘moving in together.'”

In 1950, less than 10 percent of married couples had lived together prior to the nuptials, whereas in 2004 that figure reached 68 percent, and is only expected to increase, Smock said.

As a result, the Bush administration has launched “The Healthy Marriage Initiative,” promoting families with two married parents.

The initiative reads: “Children fare best when raised in a stable marriage by their two biological parents. Furthermore, marriage benefits not only children, but adults and communities as well.”

Smock drew attention to the negative effects of cohabitation on children.

If a single mother’s boyfriend moves into the house, the children are exposed to higher levels of instability, which hinders their development, she said.

There is also a strong correlation in the lower classes between cohabitation and domestic violence, substance abuse and alcoholism, she said.

Smock said the stress of economic instability itself hinders healthy relationships, and called for innovative government policies to help the lower class find better-paying jobs, better public health and education systems. Only then will the family see an improvement in the quality of life, she said.

Sophomore Carter Angell said he thinks the younger generations are more apt to cohabitation before marriage.

“I believe that our generation is young and constantly evolving,” Angell said. “Living with someone is a good addition to society, it’s a good measure for indicating whether or not the relationship can continue and lead to marriage.”