Cohabitation – gender; he says, she says?

While cohabitation is a customary part of the relationship process today for many North American couples, an individual’s experience with cohabitation may depend on their gender. An exploratory study by Huang, Smock, Manning, and Bergstrom-Lynch (2011), examined what cohabitation means to young adults through focus groups and in-depth individual interviews. The study found that the primary motives for young adults to enter into cohabitating relationships are spending an increased amount of time together, sharing expenses, and evaluating partners for compatibility; “logistics, love, and sex – we might as well live together” (Huang et al., 2011). While men and women report similar motivations, they discuss the benefits and drawbacks of cohabitation quite differently.

Both men and women reported a significant motivation and benefit of cohabitation was the increased amount of time partners get to spend with each other; however men associated this factor with an increase in sex (4x more than women), while women associated this factor with an enhancement in love (3x more than men) (Huang et al., 2011). Financial advantages were also reported as a strong motivator for couples as a practical solution to housing and transportation costs; furthermore both men and women agreed that ideally partners should be financially stable and conversely that having debt or bad credit would make a partner less attractive (Huang et al., 2011).

Women and men are equally likely to gauge cohabitation as a temporary relationship state to measure compatibility; however women are more likely to view cohabitation as a move towards marriage, where as men are more likely to view cohabitation as a step in the relationship (Huang et al., 2011). This alludes to the idea of preparation versus test-drives perspectives in pre-marriage cohabitation.  A strong difference was found in the reported disadvantages of cohabitation as women worried about cohabitation as a less committed or legitimate form of relationships (compared to marriage), while men worried about a loss of personal freedom after moving in with a partner (Huang et al., 2011). Both genders expressed a high concern for the potential of divorce in the future; suggesting that while many couples choose to cohabitate, marriage is still an important value and for better or worse couples may enter cohabitating relationships as a risk management strategy (Huang et al., 2011).

Cohabitating relationships – like other forms of relationships and the individuals in them – are unique and dynamic. Individual differences, relationship dynamics, future relationship intentions, and factors such as gender can all influence a couple’s cohabitating relationship. Ultimately many couples believe that the advantages to cohabitating outweigh the drawbacks, although men and women may weigh the factors differently.

Huang, P. M., Smock, P. J., Manning, W. D., & Bergstrom-Lynch, C. (2011). He says, she says:   Gender and cohabitation.Journal of Family Issues, 32(7), 876-905. doi:   http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/0192513X10397601

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