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Research to Compare Cohabiting, Being Married, and Being Single

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During this essay, I aim to discover whether cohabiting, being married, or being single (i.e. without a partner) are best viewed as distinct and different lifestyles, or simply as different stages within diverse contemporary relationship histories. To do this I will start by discussing the second demographic transition (SDT) which was introduced in 1986 by Lesthaeghe and Van de Kaa to illustrate the shifts in family structures, relationship breakdown and the reorganization of families in the west. I will then consider Colemans criticism of the SDT, where he states that SDT is neither a “second” or “demographic” transition but a limited examination of different lifestyles.

Following on from this I shall explore singleness including the trends and reasons individuals live alone, and how the married couple with children is no longer fundamental, allowing for a shift in post-modern living arrangements. Also discussing how the meaning of being single has changed, however it still holds negative stigmatization for some individuals. I will continue by reviewing cohabitation, and how unmarried cohabitation has become more predominant with the majority of people having cohabited at some stage in their life’s. I will consider two types of cohabitation firstly, cohabitation as a substitute to marriage and secondly, pre-marital cohabitation, whilst also viewing a rise in births to cohabiting couples and how the growth in cohabitation and out of wedlock births has led to a shift in attitudes about marriage, cohabitation and parenthood.

Finally, I will discuss marriage trends looking at how marriage rates have declined over the last quarter of a century. I will use reports from the office of national statistics (ONS) to view how although there was a rise in marriage rates between 2009-2012 the marriage rates declined again in 2013. Also discussing the rise of first marriage rates compared to the decline of remarriage rates, and the trend whereby women tend to marry younger compared to men. I shall then conclude by summarising the body of my essay and how cohabiting, being married or living alone are best viewed.

I shall start by reviewing the second demographic transition (SDT). The SDT was first introduced by Lesthaeghe and Van de kaa in 1986 to illustrate the shifts in family structures, relationship breakdown and the reorganization of families in the west (Lesthaeghe, 1998). The visible changes in family structures arise through the delaying of marriage, and the increase of cohabitation, single living, and the rise of reproduction for cohabiting couples. Patterns of dissolution are distinguished by increasing divorce rates and soaring dissolution of cohabitants, with the structures of family rearrangement being transferred from remarriage towards post marital cohabitation.

Goldscheider (2000) believes that SDT is the aftermath of the first demographic transition, with its principal attribute being the increase in divorce and cohabitation, resulting in unions being less central and stable in the lives of both men and women. Goldscheider (2000) also notes that with a growth in divorce men are now more likely to be moved in and out of the lives of both women and children and consequently parenthood is not an established part of a man’s life compared to that of a woman.

The second demographic transition has however received criticism Coleman (2004) states that SDT is neither a “second” or a “demographic” transition but a limited examination of a different lifestyle. Coleman (2004) argues that the SDT is not really demographic as it pays most attention to marriage and its alternatives rather than mortality and population growth, and that SDT fails to make reference to internal or international migration compared to the first demographic transition. Coleman also argues that the SDT is not a transition, asserting that “a “transition” should be complete and irreversible, as the “first” one is held to be, not a transient cyclical change but a permanent movement, shared by most individuals in a population, between one long term sustainable demographic pattern and another.”

However, Lestaeghe (2010) defends the SDT affirming that, throughout the first demographic transition the decrease in fertility was controlled by an immense emotional and economic investment in the child, while the rationale for the SDT was adult self-awareness within the position of parent and an accomplished and content adult. Believing that this change was sustained by the invention of highly effective contraception. Through the first transition couples used contraception to evade pregnancy, in comparison the fundamental decision throughout the SDT was to discontinue the use of contraception for the purpose of procreation.

Lesthaeghe (2010) also discussed various contrasts between the first and second transition in order to defend SDT. Firstly, Nuptality regimes, describing how in Western Europe the trend of late marriage deteriorated as a result of the evolution of wage labour, with a fundamental movement in the direction of earlier marriage, which persisted until the mid 1960s, meaning that the lowest mean ages at first marriage since the renaissance transpired by the middle of the twentieth century. In comparison after 1965 ages at marriage began to rise, however, as a result of pre-marital cohabitation, leaving home later and single living a considerable number of individuals ever married began to decrease. Also featured in the SDT was the increase of post-marital cohabitation and childbearing within cohabitation.

Further nuptality contrasts included divorce and remarriage, during the first transition there were rigorous divorce legislation with the prominence on reinforcing the marriage and the family, as a result divorce rates for this period were low. In comparison the SDT saw a rise in divorce rates which was regarded as challenging the moral order of the church and state (Lesthaeghe, 2010). A final nuptality comparison was that of remarriage, comparing how during the first transition remarriage occurred only for widows and widowers. However, through the SDT cohabitation, and other living arrangements including living alone together (LAT) are favoured over remarriage.

Following on from this I will explore singleness and the trends and reasons that individuals live alone. Over the past 30 years we have witnessed a substantial rise in the number of individuals residing alone in the UK, the percentage of one-person households approximately doubled between 1971 – 2000. Roseneil & Budgeon (2004) argue that, “the heterosexual couple, and particularly the married co-residential heterosexual couple with children, no longer occupies the centre-ground of western societies, and cannot be taken for granted as the basic unit in society”.

Roseneil & Budgeon (2004) continue to discuss the various reasons for this including how over the last 30 years the increase in divorce, the rise in out of wedlock births, births to single mothers, the proportions of lone parent families, the increasing number of one-person households and the rise in women deciding not to have children have all contributed to the shift in post-modern living arrangements. With the recent changes in living and relationship trends, the meaning of singleness has also changed, it is now common practice to refer to someone as “single’ rather than as a “spinster” or a “bachelor”.

The way in which single women are viewed has also been subject to recent change during the 19th century women were characterised through marriage and motherhood, a woman who was not married tended to be known as an unmarried daughter, sister, or aunt. The perception of single women started to progress when women began to enter the labour market through paid employment, and there was an increase in educational opportunities for women. As a consequence women became more independent choosing to delay marriage, and with a rise in divorce rates women were choosing single living.

Nevertheless, single women are still described negatively with people deeming that single women are requiring something more. Reynolds et al (2007) Argue that single women experience a degree of stigmatization, that they are marginalized for their individualism and are frequently portrayed as being exterior to conventional relationships or family structures, affirming that traditional family structures continue to be representative for the widespread culture in the west.

Research undertaken by Macvarish (2006) suggests that for women between the ages of 34-50 singleness is more challenging than modern descriptions tend to indicate. Modern descriptions of single living imply that individuals are free from the responsibilities or the demands of a relationship or motherhood. However, the participants of the research felt this was not a true representation and that there was a ambiguity between the autonomy of responsibility and the fear that they would not get the opportunity to exit singleness or enter into motherhood. The majority of women who participated in the research suggested that whilst they felt contented with single living, it was not what they desired for the future.

Recent statistics from the office of national statistics (ONS) show that in the UK 7.6 million people resided alone in 2012, 4.2 million of these were aged 16-64, with the greatest number being male, a reason for this could be that more men than women remain unmarried. However, for individuals aged over 65 and residing alone the majority were women, this could be owed to the fact that women predominately marry older men and also have a longer life expectancy.

In comparison to single living individuals may decide to cohabitate, cohabitation is the term given to unmarried couples in a sexual relationship who reside together. In contemporary societies, unmarried cohabitations have become more predominant, with a vast amount of people having cohabited at some stage in their life’s. Indebted to the heterogeneity of cohabiting couples the diverse classifications of cohabitation exist alongside one another, though to different degrees. There are two variations of cohabitation, firstly, cohabitation as a substitute to marriage, whereby individuals discard marriage as an institution and consequently decide to cohabitate. Secondly, is pre-marital cohabitation, cohabitation is viewed as preliminary before marriage, subsequently successful relationships will progress onto marriage, whereas unsuccessful relationships will dissolve.

The prevalence of cohabitation saw major growth from the late 1980s onwards. According to the general household survey (GHS) more than fifty percent of couples have pre-martially cohabited, consequently residing together prior to marriage has now become majority practice. Between 2004-07 cohabiting unions on average lasted four years before first marriage, over double that of cohabiting unions in the early 1980s.

Beaujouan Ni Bhrolcháin (2014) indicate that life stages have been delayed, between 2004-2007 first marriages were postponed by five years, in comparison to first marriages between 1980-1984. They also proclaim that as a consequence of growth in out of wedlock childbirth, first marriages on average is later than first birth, GHS estimate that in 2000-2007 around 30% of women having their first birth were in cohabiting unions, a rise of 24% compared to 1980-1984.

Succeeding the modern increase in cohabitation and the growth in births within cohabiting unions, there has also been a visible shift in people’s attitudes regarding parenthood and marriage. Reports from The British Social Attitudes Survey (BSA) shows that in 1987 70% of individuals felt that marriage should come before parenthood, in comparison to 54% in 2000. However, these numbers change with relation to age, for instance those aged 65 and over tended to agree that marriage should proceed childbirth whereas, those aged 18-24 only 53% agreed.

Couples that have a child within cohabitation are less likely to marry compared to those cohabiting unions that do not have children. According to the British Household Panel Study (BHPS) women whose first birth was within cohabitation have 67% less chance of ending the cohabitation with marriage compared to women with no children. Morgan (2000) asserts that for individuals in cohabiting relationships with a limited education or who are subject to financial hardship the probability of having a child within cohabitation is higher than that of higher educated couples. Also, couples with a higher education are more likely to progress their cohabiting union into marriage, compared to those with a limited education. The advancement from cohabitation to marriage is said to be connected to the couples economic status, cohabiting couples where one or both are unemployed are more likely to dissolve their relationship, whereas, cohabiting unions where one or both of the individuals are employed would most likely advance into marriage.

To continue from this, I will discuss the trends in marriage, over the last quarter of a century marriages have been declining. Wilson & Smallwood (2007) argue that as a result of individuals deciding to delay marriage or cohabitate the marriage rates in the UK have declined by over 30%. When exploring the trends in marriage and the rates of marriage Wilson & Small (2007) also look at population statistics affirming that, in 1851 more than 150,000 marriages took place, however, 5.5 million individuals over the age of 15 years remained single, divorced, or widowed. In comparison in 2005 there were 250,000 marriages with 2.4 million individuals continued to be unmarried. Although there were more marriages in 2005 the marriage rates were lower than that of 1851 as there was a higher population of people.

More recent figures collected by the Office For National Statistics (ONS) show that although there was a rise in marriages between 2009-2012, figures for 2013 show the first decline in marriage rates since 2009, with 240,854 marriages in 2013 a decline of 8.6% in comparison to 2012. There reports also suggest that there are various reasons for the rise in marriage between 2010-2012 these include, firstly, the abolishment of the certificate of approval scheme in May 2011, consequently marriages to an individual that is governed by immigration limitations was now easier. Secondly, due to the economic hardship between 2008-2009 individuals may have been subject to financial difficulties, and job or life style changes resulting in them having to delay their marriage. Finally, between 2009-2011 the number of British people getting married abroad declined, ultimately leading to them getting married in the UK.

Furthermore ONS (2013) reports show that in 2013 marriage rates for first marriage were increasing, whereas remarriages were decreasing, with 77% of brides and 76% of grooms marrying for the first time, with approximately 67% of all marriages being first marriages for both the bride and groom, an increase of 58% compared to 2000. In comparison only 15% of marriages were a remarriage for both individuals a decrease of 4% between 1995-2000. Another visible change was the age that individuals were marrying, since 1997 a visible trend has been that below the age of 30 marriage rates are higher for women, whereas over the age of 30 the marriage rates are higher for men, in 2013 the average age that individuals got married was 36.7 years for men and 34.3 years for women, this increased slightly in 2014 to 37.0 years for men, and 34.6 years for women. Marriage rates for 2014 increased for both men and women over the age of 35 years, whilst decreasing for men and women below the age of 35.

In conclusion, the literature I reviewed throughout this essay suggests that cohabiting, being married, and living alone are best viewed as different life stages. I firstly, discussed the second demographic transition which describes the visible changes in family structures, as a result of the rise in cohabitation and delaying marriage. following this I explored singleness although there has been a rise in the amount of people residing alone, research suggests that while individuals are content with be single, they do have the desire to enter marriage and parenthood in the future. I continued by looking at cohabitation, cohabitation has seen major growth since the 1980s with more than 50% of couples having cohabited at some stage of their life, with pre-marital cohabitations now lasting longer. Finally, I discussed marriage trends including, how the rise in marriages between 2009-2012 had ended with the decline in 2013. However, I also discussed the rise in first marriages compared to decline in remarriages, and the age-related changes to marriage rates. I consider that all the literature reviewed suggests that although there has been a rise in cohabitation and single living, there’s also been a rise in marriages for the over 35s, signifying that cohabitation, marriage, and living alone are different life stages rather than different life styles.

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