The Effect of Cohabitation on Egalitarianism in Marriage

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Virginia Tech

This study examines the relationship between premarital cohabitation and egalitarianism in marriage using data from the two waves of the National Survey of Families and Households (N = 13,017). Multiple regression and path analysis techniques are used to test this effect. Cohabitation is viewed as an experience in which patterns of behavior and attitudes are formed that influence later marriages. It is hypothesized that this experience leads to a more egalitarian household division of labor and less traditional gender ideologies among married individuals who cohabited premaritally, as compared to those that did not. Path models test the extent to which cohabitation’s effect on later marriages is explained by the household division of labor and gender ideology at time-1. Based on attitude-behavior research, 1) a higher correlation between household division of labor and gender ideology is expected for premarital cohabitors than for non-cohabitors; and 2) a measure of attitude toward sharing housework should better predict household division of labor than does general gender ideology. The analysis showed that premarital cohabitation does have a positive effect on household division of labor and gender ideology in marriage through indirect (and possibly direct) paths. The attitudinal and behavioral measures were not more closely linked for cohabitors, and the specific attitude-toward-thebehavior measure was not a better predictor of household division of labor than general gender ideology. I conclude from this analysis that the experience of cohabitation leads to more egalitarian marriages and that this is largely due to household labor during cohabitation.

egalitarianism, household division of labor, cohabitation, gender ideology