Save Marriage: Encourage Cohabitation!


Over at Cato Unbound, the always interesting Stephanie Coontz has an essay on "The Future of Marriage." I agree with everything she says, but Coontz is especially strong on the lack of correlation between "family values" and, well, the strength of families:

A recent study by Paul Amato et al. found that the chance of divorce recedes with each year that a woman postpones marriage, with the least divorce-prone marriages being those where the couples got married at age 35 or higher. Educated and high-earning women are now less likely to divorce than other women. When a wife takes a job today, it works to stabilize the marriage. Couples who share housework and productive work have more stable marriages than couples who do not, according to sociologist Lynn Prince Cooke. And the Amato study found that husbands and wives who hold egalitarian views about gender have higher marital quality and fewer marital problems than couples who cling to more traditional views.

So there is no reason to give up on building successful marriages — but we won't do it by giving people outdated advice about gender roles. We may be able to bring the divorce rate down a little further — but since one method of doing that is to get more people to delay marriage, this will probably lead to more cohabitation.

Much ink has been spilled warning women of the dangers of cohabitation (see: milk/cow metaphor), but it seems that its role in delaying marriage may be potentially beneficial from a marriage-maximizing perspective. Funny how you never hear anything like this from The Independent Women's Forum.

Elsewhere in Reason: Julian Sanchez on Coontz.