New research shows that men are hesitating when it comes to marriage.
And, that divorce doesn't make people happy.
Yet the research also shows that marriage is good for men, women, children and the village
and that a happy marriage is still people's number one goal - they put it ahead of wealth, health and job satisfaction.
WHAT are we going to do about it? Smart Marriages provides new solutions.
We can definitely help people get smarter about how to do marriage - help them change their odds
and become skilled masters of marriage. This will help men - and women - feel more confident about
marriage and will help couples strengthen their unions, avoid divorce and build the strong, solid, sexy
marriages of their dreams.
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Experts say men who cohabit with women are less bound to marry
Cohabiting is not the same as commitment
By Karen S. Peterson, USA TODAY
July 8, 2002
An expert addressing a "Smart Marriages" conference this week will drop research on his colleagues that may indeed make some Americans smart.
Researcher Scott Stanley's case is this: Women living unmarried with guys and expecting a lasting, committed marriage down the line had better review their options. His research finds that men who cohabit with the women they eventually marry are less committed to the union than men who never lived with their spouses ahead of time.
A variety of such studies will be presented beginning Thursday at the Washington, D.C., conference sponsored by the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education.
But rather than settle anything for the more than 5 million unmarried American couples who live together, the research will likely spark the ongoing dispute over living together vs. marriage, and true commitment vs. a spirit of "maybe I do," in Stanley's words. And it will also raise fresh questions about who's more of a slacker in the commitment department: men or women.
Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, says the evidence from his research is so strong that cohabiting women "should be very careful about how aligned they are with a particular man if he does not show any strong sense of marriage and a future together."
Men who either drift into marriage "through inertia" following a cohabiting arrangement or who are "dragged down the aisle" by women who finally put their feet down are not good marriage risks, he says.
Many presenters will agree with Stanley: It is young men, not women, who move toward marriage with the speed of a wounded sloth. Their findings will reinforce stereotypes and infuriate many of both sexes who want to look before they leap. But still it is men, these researchers say, who drag their feet — big time.
Testing the relationship
Stanley says his results do not mean there are not "a lot of super men out there," who have cohabited and are dedicated to their women both before and after heading down the aisle. But his findings do hold up on average, he says, and are reinforced by another of his current research projects.
The cohabiting women in Stanley's small but pioneering study did not show differences in commitment to their unions before or after marriage.
He speculates that men who want "to test marriage out first" are less committed to the institution in general and their partners specifically than men who move directly to marriage without cohabiting. And he speculates that women are still socialized to put relationships first and tend to be as committed to both the union and the partner, after marriage as they were before it.
His findings will interest those who monitor marriage trends. Setting up shop together — before marriage or without any plans to marry — has become commonplace. Between 50% and 60% of new marriages now involve couples who have lived together first.
Many who live together feel it is a vaccination against divorce. "I've been dating the same girl for three years, and it just seemed the natural progression for our relationship, the next step to take," says Scott Tolchinsky, 23, of Bethesda, Md., who has just set up housekeeping with his girlfriend. "You see so many get divorced that you want to try things out."
Divorce is "just a huge issue for my generation," says Rosanne Garfield, 28, of Arlington, Va. "My family has not had good success with marriage. I was living with my boyfriend for the last year. I told him to make a decision (about marriage), and that ended it. But it would never cross my mind not to live together with someone before marrying him."
Ironically, the divorce rate among those who once lived together is higher than among those who have not. Experts say that is often because those who choose to cohabit are not great believers in marriage in the first place.
Stanley sees other factors at play. In his study on live-ins who married, less religious men were particularly apt to be less committed. It may be that higher divorce rates among one-time cohabitors are a result of "the presence of males who are less dedicated, less religious and more negative" than males who didn't cohabit, he says.
The co-author of Fighting for Your Marriage, Stanley helped develop a communication skills course for couples based on 20 years of the center's research. Much of its work is funded by the National Institute of Mental Health.
His current study is based on a sub-sample of 207 men and women married 10 years or less and culled from ongoing marital research on 950 adults nationwide. Standard assessments of commitment were employed during telephone interviews.
His study will be published in a future issue of the Journal of Family Issues.
Stanley says his results dovetail with those from a controversial Rutgers University study released June 25. That research by sociologist David Popenoe has become a hot topic. Popenoe will elaborate further on his findings at the "Smart Marriages" conference.
The Rutgers study found that young men are reluctant to marry because just living with a woman is easier. They fear the cost of a divorce. They are not excited about sharing the everyday chores of parenting with their future wives. And they'd like to be financially stable first.
Both he and Popenoe agree, Stanley says, that "it is a bigger switch for men than women to go from being non-married to married. And men are more reluctant to throw that switch."
Women, Stanley says, are more willing to sacrifice for others, more willing to undergo the burdens that babies bring. And women's fertile years are limited. They hear their biological clocks ticking while men hear only the sounds of silence.
Seekers of commitment
Many experts agree men are the foot-draggers. Atlanta psychiatrist Frank Pittman, author of Grow Up!, says men still have not been raised to be good candidates for today's egalitarian marriages. "Marriage is by its nature, total, permanent and equal. In that way it is different from any other relationship or activity." Men are still reluctant to move toward such a binding relationship, he says.
But the Rutgers study is causing a fuss elsewhere. The Alternatives to Marriage Project (AtMP) debunks the concept that men would rather have a live-in lover than a wife. Marshall Miller and Dorian Solot, live-ins themselves and co-founders of the non-profit group supporting non-marrieds, say that "men actually tend to be more interested in marriage than women." Among the polls and surveys they cite:
* A 1996 Gallup poll found 39% of unmarried men would prefer to be married; 29% of unmarried women would.
* A government-funded survey of high schoolers, from 1996-2000, found 38% of senior boys believe marriage leads to a fuller and happier life; 29% of senior girls said so.
* A 1994 government-funded survey found 59% of unmarried men ages 18-35 want to get married; 48% of women agreed.
Men are committed to women, Miller says. "Their only hesitation is whether to commit to the institution of marriage."
Steve Penner of Brighton, Mass., called USA TODAY to object to the Rutgers survey. Over the last 20 years, he says, he has talked to more than 21,000 singles as head of LunchDates, an upscale dating service in the Boston area.
Both the men and women of today seek commitment, he says. "I really think we are picking on men. Men and women are equally looking for relationships."
Whether or not anyone wants to commit depends on age, financial situation and life experiences, not gender, many others say.
"People are always saying all men are dogs," Tolchinsky says. "But there are lots of nice men out there who are looking to settle down. Maybe women are looking in the wrong places."
Days of delayed unions
Both sexes are delaying marriage today for financial reasons, Penner says. "They both want to buy a house first. They both want to pursue a career. These are the children of the baby boom generation, and the men and women are very similar."
Indeed, both sexes are tending to marry later. The median age for first marriage for men is now about 27; for women, it is 25.
Her generation is waiting, says Garfield. "We have had experiences with functional and dysfunctional families all around us." A lasting commitment really depends on "trial and error," she says. And living together first is a good option.
Maybe, says researcher Scott Stanley. But still, there are his findings on men who cohabit first vs. those who don't, the men who live with a woman but 10 years after marriage don't feel a solid commitment to them. He says to women: "If you want someone to marry, choose someone who won't live with you."
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