Cohabitation and commitment: Partnership plans of young men and women

L. Jamieson, M. Anderson, D. McCrone, F. Bechhofer, R. Stewart, Y. Li

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Popular commentators on marriage and the family often interpret the increase in heterosexual couples living together without marrying as reduced willingness to create and honour life-long partnerships. Survey and in-depth interviews with samples of 20-29 year olds living in an urban area of Scotland finds little support for the postulated link between growing cohabitation and a weakened sense of commitment to long-term arrangements. Most of the cohabiting couples strongly stressed their 'commitment'. Socially acceptable vocabularies of motive undoubtedly influenced answers but interviews helped to explore deeper meanings. Many respondents' views were consistent with previous research predictions of a weakening sense of any added value of marriage. At the same time, some respondents continued to stress the social significance of the distinction between marriage and cohabitation, consistent with research interpreting cohabitation as a 'try and see' strategy part-way to the perceived full commitment of marriage. The notion that 'marriage is better for children' continued to have support among respondents. While, on average, cohabiting couples had lower incomes and poorer employment situations than married couples, only very extreme adverse circumstances were presented as making marriage 'too risky'. Pregnancy-provoked cohabitation was not always in this category. Cohabitation was maintained because marriage would 'make no difference' or because they 'had not yet got round to' marriage. Most respondents were more wary of attempting to schedule or plan in their personal life than in other domains and cohabitees' attitudes to partnership, including their generally 'committed' approach, do not explain the known greater vulnerability of this group to dissolution.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)356-377
Number of pages22
JournalSociological Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2002


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