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U.S. News Archive
December 21 - December 27, 2000

 

 

 
This page contains news for the period December 21, 2000 through December 27, 2000.  

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Wednesday, December 27, 2000

Half of today's marriages are preceded by cohabitation

A story published today in the Florida Times-Union reports that at least half of current marriages begin with unmarried cohabitation. 

Some 3.1 million opposite-sex couples now live together, many with the idea of one day marrying for life. But about 2 million of these couples will break up, either before they marry or later through a divorce.

The story says that despite the odds, more couples are cohabiting than ever before. From 1990 to 1997, for instance, the number of couples living together shot up 46 percent.

And the numbers continue to rise as young romantics try to prevent divorce by getting to know their future life-partners as well as possible. In the meantime, they're also trying to save money by sharing rents or mortgages.

Those theories both make sense, said Maggie Gallagher, co-author of The Case for Marriage. Too bad they don't work.

"The research is very clear," she said from her home in New York. "The longer you're married, the more wealth you build. But, there is no evidence that the length of cohabitation is correlated with wealth-acquisition."

Gallagher said the research is also clear about cohabitation's influence on marital success.

"If the question is 'Will this help you avoid divorce?' the answer is 'No, it will not.' "

She could be pulling her data from UCLA scholar Judith Seltzer's study this year that says "Marriages preceded by cohabitation are more likely to end in separation or divorce than marriages in which the couple did not live together previously." Of course, she could also be using information from studies in 1992, 1994 and 1995, all of which came to the same conclusion.

According to University of Michigan associate professor of sociology Pamela Smock, a demographer and research scientist at the Institute for Social Research, about 44 percent of cohabiting couples never even make it to the altar.

For the roughly 1 million cohabitors who live together with no plans to marry, that's not such a big issue. Same-sex cohabitors, denied marriage rights in most states, are not included in the 3.1 million cohabitation figure.

Nevertheless, Smock reminds us that, "The cohabitors of today are the marriers of tomorrow." Studies may foretell breakup for most, but some former cohabitors do get married and stay married.

Dorian Solot, co-founder of the progressive Alternatives to Marriage Project in Boston, a national organization dedicated to encouraging support, wants society to accept unmarried couples.

"I wouldn't equate cohabitation with jumping off a building and believing you can fly," Solot said. "There are obviously millions of successfully cohabiting people, whereas I don't see a lot of successfully flying people just yet."

Solot also refutes Maggie Gallagher's argument that marriage builds wealth.   Actually, she said, it's the other way around.

"Most people wait until they have money before they get married. Weddings are very expensive," she said. "I think that people get wealthy and then they get married. . . . It's not that marriage necessarily makes you rich, which is what Maggie Gallagher would like us to believe."

Somewhere in the middle are experts like Michigan's professor Smock. With her head just above the fray, she and other scholars treat cohabitation as a sociological phenomenon perfectly in step with the late 20th century retreat from marriage. According to Smock, relatively recent spikes in cohabitation stem from the the sexual revolution of the late '60s and early '70s.

That makes sense, considering that 44 percent of marriages between the post-revolution years of 1980 and 1984 involved at least one partner with cohabitation in his or her past, compared with only 11 percent of marriages preceded by cohabitation between 1965 and 1974.

"People weren't against people living together in the '50s because people were sharing laundry or cooking together," Smock said. "They were upset because people were having sex."

Right or wrong, as a research subject or a sign of moral decay, cohabitation shows no signs of diminishing. Of course, many of those relationships (like countless traditional marriages) will end in separation. But some people -- even ones who cohabited -- still manage to get married and stay married.

Marshall Miller: fighter for unmarried

A profile which appeared in today's edition of USA Today focuses on Marshall Miller, co-founder of the Alternatives to Marriage Project.

The article asks: who could possibly oppose a movement that seeks to strengthen marriage and cut the divorce rate?

The answer: Marshall Miller does.

It says that Miller's predilection to challenge marriage as the gold standard of relationships offends many. It also garners Miller a growing amount of national attention: So far, he has been quoted in 100 media outlets. It predicts that the number will grow in 2001 as he plans a national conference on issues facing non-married people.

Miller and Dorian Solot, his longtime live-in partner, founded the Alternatives to Marriage Project (ATMP) in 1998. The current focus of the non-profit group is responding to the growing national ''marriage movement,'' which the couple say regards marriage as the only acceptable lifestyle for couples, attacks divorce ''with a message of shame'' and deplores living together.

Miller and Solot, who are in their late 20s, say the marriage movement endorses the traditional family only, while the ATMP celebrates diversity. ''We have unmarried couples, singles not in relationships, divorced people, stepfamilies, gay and lesbian couples who can't legally marry, people who live together with and without children,'' he says. ''We need to recognize and validate all kinds of families and to support (government) policies that recognize all kinds, not only married couples.''

As the profile points out, the marriage movement takes quite another view, trying to stop what it calls the ''divorce revolution.'' Various factions promote solutions such as ''covenant marriages,'' which make divorce harder; changes in divorce laws; and cheaper marriage licenses for those who take relationships courses. The varied blocs got together in Denver in June to publish a declaration of principles.

ATMP quickly came out with a statement supporting all kinds of families, signed by 500 experts and everyday folks. The group now has members in 49 states (South Dakota is the holdout).

Solot says the group represents 11 million Americans living with unmarried partners ''whose lives don't fit the white-picket-fence model. I feel like we have reached a critical mass of unmarrieds in this country who are speaking up about their needs.''

The couple's own legal needs were not met when they moved in together eight years ago. One landlord refused to rent to an unmarried couple. The two could not get joint tenants' insurance.

''And we just got this pressure from everybody to get married, from relatives and even acquaintances,'' Miller says.

They looked for a group that supported unmarrieds and ended up starting their own. The two expect increasing attention for their cause during the next year. ''I see our organization growing more as the word continues to get out,'' Miller says. ''My hope for 2001 is that our culture continues to change and to accept and celebrate family diversity.''

Miller is a magna cum laude graduate of Brown University; Solot graduated from Brown with honors. The couple live in the Boston area with their two cats, Twiga and Allegra.

Miller and Solot are members of the American Association for Single People.


More elderly couples deciding to divorce

A story published today by Fox News reports that divorce lawyers and geriatric specialists have been noticing a sharp increase in clients over 65, who are splitting from long-time spouses to go their own way. Like younger couples experiencing divorce, the process can be painful and expensive.

Seniors who divorce may face challenges their younger counterparts may never encounter. Experts say couples married for 40 or 50 years could find flying solo far more difficult than they would have when they were younger. The isolation sometimes felt by senior citizens can be magnified after a marital split. And some seniors feel the wrath of adult children and grandchildren who are suffering their own feelings of loss and resentment.

"Clearly it disturbs a stable pattern; a person can feel very alone. It’s very stressful," said Dr. Carl Eisdorfer, director of the University of Miami’s Center on Adult Development and Aging. "It can take away a person’s usual support systems, place of worship, friends and neighbors. Major readjustments are tougher later in life. It's difficult to make a shift to things you’ve never done before."

So why with all the problems and hurdles are more seniors taking the plunge back into single life?

The story suggests that one reason is that people are simply living longer than they did in the past. Divorce no longer holds the societal stigma that it once did, and many would rather live out their extended golden years with a new spouse or even by themselves than remain in an unhappy union.

That was the case for a 72-year-old Baltimore woman who discussed the end of her 46-year marriage on condition of anonymity. She said she endured an unhappy marriage for the sake of her five sons, even though she had been aware of her husband’s philandering for many years.

But the Maryland ceramics teacher found the strain started to take a toll on her health and she began suffering from nosebleeds and high blood pressure. The final indignity came when she received a phone call from a friend who spotted the errant husband enjoying an intimate dinner with another woman. Despite the length of her marriage, she decided to call it quits.

Friday, December 22, 2000

AASP mentioned in American Demographics article on unmarried couples who are consumers

The December issue of American Demographics included an article -- "Unmarried Bliss -- which discussed the growing number of Americans today who choose not to marry, yet they are far from "single." The author, Rebecca Gardyn, says that it's time that marketers acknowledge unmarried couples as consumers.

AASP is mentioned in the article as is the Alternatives to Marriage Project.  Thomas F. Coleman, executive director of AASP, and Dorian Solot, co-founder of ATMP, are both quoted.

According to the story, there are nearly 8.5 million Americans living with an opposite-sex partner today, up from 878,000 in 1960. While for many,cohabitation is a temporary step toward marriage, there is a growing sub-segment -- currently estimated at between 1 million and 2 million people -- who are living with significant others in very committed, long-term relationships. See charts.

Gardyn predicts these numbers are expected to explode in the coming decades for a variety of reasons, from the changing demographics of cohabitors to society's waning reverence for marital bliss and waxing valuation of individual independence. Because there is no default marriage contract for unmarried unions, these consumers have a greater demand for tailored financial, legal, tax, insurance, health care, and estate planning, and for some, even prenatal and day-care services. Yet for the most part, businesses have failed to notice their special needs, whether because of moral disagreement, ignorance, or the inability to find data or media outlets that define and reach this consumer group.

She adds that companies which continue to ignore these trends, however, are missing out on a potentially lucrative marketing opportunity. The demographics of cohabitors are changing, and so too are their needs as consumers. "It used to be that unmarrieds were on the fringe -- they were hippies, poor, or gay -- and they didn't accumulate a lot of property," says Frederick Hertz, a real estate attorney from Oakland, California, and co-author of The Living Together Kit: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples, due out this month from Nolo Press. "Now my clients are anything from 70-year-olds who choose not to remarry because they don't want to lose Medicare benefits, to young, highly successful professionals who want to keep their independence and yet own a business and two homes with their partner. There has been an economic maturation of unmarried couples."

To read the complete article, click here.

 

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