Family and Union Formation


This week’s readings discuss issues related to family and union formation such as cohabitation, marriage, family composition and structure, and the economic factors that influence such formations. The readings describe the motivations that push people to form new unions either through informal means of cohabitation, or more traditional means of marriage and how these unions create new definitions of family and how they redefine definitions of marriage. The impact of cohabitation on individuals and society is discussed in relation to the formation and dissolution of unions. Decisions to marry and the impact of making the decision to marry on unions, family formation, and societal expectations are also discussed. The evolution of the role of family in society and the impact of family on the institution of marriage and family is also mentioned. The economic factors that blend together to inform decisions to form unions and what can lead to dissolution of unions is threaded throughout the readings.
Cohabitation is discussed and mentioned as a source of non-traditional union formation that increases depending on the nature of a society and also the economic conditions that impact the individuals in the union(Waite, 2005, Teachman et al 2013, Lichter et al 2006, Manning and Cohen 2012, Smock et al 2006). Waite (2005) mentions how cohabitation has transformed over time and how it has been extended to include same sex couples. In more conservative societal moments, cohabitation also resembled marriage with everything but the legality of the marriage license. Smock et al (2006) makes the point that cohabitation is the modal path to marriage. For many couples cohabitation is seen as the first major step in their relationship and will help determine the longevity of their relationship. While for other couples, cohabitation is seen as a part of the adulthood journey that may or may not lead to marriage. While today, cohabitation as an institution is more liberal(less permanency in the union) and actually includes more risk for the individual partner in the union in stark contrast to the permanency and stability of marriage today. The views of cohabitation are also discussed from culture to culture showing that from cohort to cohort, the impact of cohabitation on the eventual union of a women(depending on whether she has a child or not). These end results impact not only the women in these cohorts but their children as well. Due to the non-traditional view of cohabitation, these attitudes can extend to child rearing by the fathers not taking a more responsible, active, and involved role in the lives of their children. These attitudes and actions serve to impact the views that their children will one day have regarding the choice of cohabitation or marriage. Teachman et al (2013) describes some of the economic shifts that have resulted in cohabitation being considered as an alternative to marriage. I would argue that these economic shifts have been used as a reason for the increase in cohabitation but one of the main reasons why cohabitation is more likely to be considered as an option in union formation is due to the behavioral drive of the person who leads the union(in many cases the male partner in the union). As a result, the female partner in the union comes to believe that their only option is to be single and would rather have the illusion of economic benefit in the union than face the economic reality of living alone.
Marriage and all of its attributes is described in the readings both for its impact on couples and its impact on society. The readings describe the shifts that have occurred in marriage as a direct result of the changes in societal views (Waite, 2005, Teachman et al 2013, Lichter et al 2006, Manning and Cohen 2012. Smock et al 2006) such as the increase in more binding marriage laws and an increase in the age of first marriage. The readings also discuss the relationship between partner selection and marriage stability (Manning and Cohen, 2012). The importance of having quality partners to select from, as Smock et al (2006) discusses predicts the outcome of marriage stability (or the likelihood of dissolution). In areas where minority women are lacking in marriageable mates, the rates of cohabitation increase as do the rates of single motherhood. Many of the indicators that negatively affected minority women did not have the same impact on the marriageability of Non-Hispanic White women. This was found to be the case across economic lines.
Family formation is also discussed in the readings. Marriage is discussed in relation to time and space. Similar to migration, the definition of marriage differs from place to place and from culture to culture (Waite, 2005). As society continues to shift, the composition of families also shifts. Individuals gravitate toward people and places that encourage and support them in the way that a family would and as a result, the definition of family evolves. Teachman et al (2013) mentions that the composition of families have always changed. As a result, what has needed to change has been the societal definition of family in order to be more inclusive and representative of today’s family regardless of how it looks compared to a narrow, classic view of family. With a change in how we conceptualize families, it provides the opportunity to have a multitude of voices be heard in order to create and design policy that is inclusive and serves all families regardless of their composition.
Economic factors that impact union formation were also discussed in the readings specifically programs that incentivize marriage for poor and cohabitating unions (Teachman et al 2013, Lichter et al 2006, and Smock et al 2006). The premise was often that if poor, cohabitating couples were financially able to get married, their economic conditions would improve. These conditions may improve in the short term but for couples to experience long term change and stability, the behavioral issues that they faced would have to be addressed on a larger scale. Currently, Texas marriage agencies offer a two day pre-marital counseling workshop that if taken, waives the fee for the couple’s marriage license. While this sounds like a nice idea, most cohabitating and unmarried couples would need more than two half days of pre-marital counseling to help assist in a healthy and long lasting marriage relationship. When couples are granted their marriage license, the state also provides a supplemental ‘welcome to marriage’ workbook. This workbook contains information that would also be beneficial to couples hours before they are scheduled to say I do.
The future of family and union formation will continue to evolve and include new determinants that may have not been included in the current research. Work needs to be done in both qualitative and quantitative measures in order to provide for a more complete picture of the dynamics of family and union formation. As a result, all variations of families and unions will need to be included in order to provide solutions to issues that all families and unions face. The readings highlighted a number of issues that will need to be addressed across cultural lines in order to benefit all individuals involved.
1. What are some strategies that can be used to effectively encourage cohabitating couples to get married? 2. What programs can be put in place in order to help poor couples overcome the economic barriers to marriage? 3. Is the definition of family still evolving?


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