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And then she's stuck paying for it. In sum, respondents reported that their familial networks influenced their attitudes toward cohabitation. We found that familial influence occurred through direct communication, social modeling, family religious beliefs, and parental economic support. The experience of a parental divorce appears to be quite consequential in relationship decisions in emerging adulthood. Thus, family socialization extends into emerging adulthood but is quite complex.

Dating couples often described a connection between the cohabitation experiences of friends and same-age family members and their own assessments of cohabitation. For example, Randy was 22 years old and had been dating year-old Robin for almost seven months. You know what I mean? I want to have my own place and all my own stuff. Dating couples were more apt to remember and describe the negative experiences their peers had with cohabitation, such as relationships that ended in divorce, break-up, or were plagued by constant conflict.

It was these experiences that they often cited as a reason to not cohabit. Indeed, out of the 40 percent of respondents ten men and six women who knew friends or same-age family members who were currently or previously in cohabiting relationships that they described positively i.

While some couples shared similar views of cohabitation, there was not always concordance in their assessments of cohabitation. For example, Fiona 19 years old and Frank 22 years old witnessed their friends enter cohabiting relationships and generally agreed that there are negative consequences connected to cohabitation. Fiona and Frank had been dating for roughly two years. Both Fiona and Frank knew people in bad cohabiting relationships and drew from those experiences to illuminate their current cohabitation decisions. I try and make the best out of it so we stay together.

I try to get along with him, stuff like that. While Fiona and Frank agreed that cohabitation had rarely produced happy couples within their peer networks, Mandy and Mark had differing experiences and opinions regarding the people they knew who had cohabited. Mandy was 20 years old and had been dating year-old Mark for almost four months. She attributed her negative view of cohabitation to the negative experiences of the cohabitors she has known.

Mandy asserted that she would only cohabit once she was married. It just seemed like it hurt their relationship and I would never do it. Like Mandy, who would only cohabit once she was married, Mark expressed a desire for commitment from his partner before cohabiting again. When Mark was asked if he would cohabit with Mandy, he replied,.

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Some respondents, especially those who have not experienced cohabitation themselves, feared what cohabitation will be like and how their partner will react to such a living situation. These respondents were especially reliant on the experiences of the people in their peer networks who help them form opinions about cohabitation. Wynona recalled the experience of her best friend who was living with her boyfriend. But they got tired of each other. She would go to work and go to school, and then just come back to seeing him. And they fight all the time now.

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I mean, but they love each other. William very much wanted to live with Wynona and his only prerequisite to doing so was his desire to find a job before renting an apartment. Some daters responded to negative peer influences with more optimism and form opinions about the conditions under which cohabitation will work.

Helen 22 years old and Harry 20 years old , who had been dating for almost nine months, both agree that the duration of their current relationship was a major factor in their eventual cohabitation plans. Helen reported that she had a friend who was cohabiting and pregnant. Helen felt that if her friend had waited and not rushed the relationship, perhaps things could have been different in her life. I mean, it could. Nineteen-year-old Wynona was an example of a dater who looked at the people in her peer networks, saw her friends divorcing, and wanted to take steps to ensure that her relationship with William would not end with a similar outcome.

To Wynona, cohabitation, if done in the proper context as a precursor for marriage , can be an effective step in preventing divorce. However, when she was asked if knowing divorced couples had affected her, she responded,.

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I want to live with him [William] before I even get there [marriage]. I want to live with him and be together for a while—which we have. I have known him for a long time or whatever. When I get married I want it to happen one time, once. I just want to do it one time. Similarly, year-old Kevin would never marry someone without cohabiting first. However, it was very important for him to test his compatibility with his partner before marriage. In an attempt to illustrate his point, he cited the marital relationship of a friend:.

That was the only way they could consummate, you know, get the rocks off. As discussed above, Kevin knew few happily married couples and his views of cohabitation were based in part on the negative experiences of his peer and family networks. In sum, emerging adult daters reported using the vicarious trial of their peer networks to gauge whether cohabitation would be a good idea for their relationship. However, observing negative peer experiences with cohabitation did not always result in negative attitudes toward cohabitation.

The response to peer divorce was not uniform, a number of respondents saw cohabitation as a way to divorce-proof their marriage while others became more wary of cohabitation because of divorce. This study elaborated on how support for cohabitation emerges and suggests how attitudes may spread. While some respondents adopted the attitudes of their social networks wholesale, others exerted agency and formed attitudes in opposition to those of their romantic partners, family and peers.

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More importantly, this work introduced the complexity of responses by showcasing how emerging adults responded and interpreted the experiences of their social networks. This study illustrated the importance of the couple perspective by examining reports of both members of a dating relationship. The small number of reports suggested there were selection processes operating where similarly minded respondents and partners chose one another as a boyfriend or girlfriend.

In other words, respondents reported that they may not cohabit with this partner, although they would cohabit with someone else. Even when couples shared similar views, the reasons and sources of their views varied i. Finally, our findings show that partner influence stemmed, not only from their role in the current relationship, but also from partners bringing their own biographies and experiences into the relationship.

These findings support further couple-based data collections to build our understanding of cohabitation and marriage in the United States. Religious socialization was closely linked to family influence in two ways. First, some emerging adults adopted the religious beliefs of their family and had a negative perception of cohabitation.

Research on dating in emerging adult warrants further attention as these are the relationships in which current and past family experiences are framed and may potentially progress to cohabitation. A widely stated source of social network influence was peers. Respondents appeared to use the vicarious trials of their peer networks to judge whether cohabitation would help or hurt their own relationship. Couples felt that their dating relationships or situation differed from that of their peers because they planned to enter cohabitation after a long period of courtship or because they planned to marry.

Thus, these dating couples thought that their cohabitations would result in a happy and stable marital union. By not repeating the perceived mistakes of their peer networks i. A pervasive theme throughout the study was a concern about divorce, and we observed it operating specifically through both family and peer socialization. These anxieties prevented some emerging adult daters from seeing marriage and family in a positive light. Instead of viewing marital commitment as stable and secure happiness, some respondents viewed it as being trapped in an unhappy union, or worse, being happily married for a short time before an inevitable divorce.

These respondents entered the courtship process filled with trepidation.

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Cohabitation can be a way to assuage these fears, at least for a short time. They were positively disposed toward cohabitation as a way to practice or prepare for marriage. While the influence of the parental divorce was linked to some deep-seeded fears, the influence of peer divorce simply reinforced the negative views some daters already had about divorce. Peer divorce seemed to lead daters to ask themselves, what can I do differently from my peers? Some daters saw a positive correlation between cohabitation and divorce in their peer networks, while others maintained that cohabitation was a practical way to protect against divorce.

It is important to recognize the limitations of this study. Despite this limitation, reports of the influence of social networks rose organically from the in-depth interviews themselves. In other words, it was the respondents who brought up the connection between their romantic partners, family and peers and their views of cohabitation.

Third, the sample may be biased because couples with extremely negative relationship dynamics could have been reluctant to participate. However, a number of dating couples discussed very distressing aspects of their union, including infidelity concerns and doubts regarding the future of their relationship, so it is unlikely that this limitation seriously biased the results.


In addition, since all the respondents were dating at the time of the interview, the sample may have been selective toward emerging adults with less relationship experience or more conservative attitudes about romantic involvement. Nevertheless, respondents reported a wide spectrum of sexual and relationship experiences, so this limitation most likely did not seriously bias our findings. Fourth, respondents and their partners were interviewed separately, thus it was not uncommon for respondents and their partners to contradict each other. Although interviewing couples together may have ensured fewer inconsistencies, it most likely would have inhibited respondents and their partners from fully revealing their perspective in the relationship.

Our work addressed the need to extend social learning theory by recognizing that emerging adults were not totally passive when embedded within their social networks. Consistent with Arnett our findings revealed that emerging adult daters were trying to work out their childhood family experiences and appeared to remain wary about their own relationship futures. These dating couples interpreted and formed meaning through their interactions with their romantic partners, family, and peers.

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Thus, we found that individual-based theories and methods may be limited when examining relationship decision-making and transitions. Prior work has theorized how social context fits into attitude formation, but empirical work in the United States seldom includes social context. Our findings, along with quantitative studies on social context in other countries Rindfuss et al. This qualitative analysis identifies and describes the role that social context plays in attitude formation about cohabitation, but we hope this paper leads to future quantitative work on emerging adults dating relationships, those closest to forming cohabiting unions, to help move our understanding of union formation forward.

We thank Gayra Ostgaard for her research assistance and Claudia Vercellotti for her dedication and outstanding interview skills.


National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Oct Manning , Jessica A.