New study: men and women have different goals and expectations when cohabitating

Carson Weitnauer shared this fascinating article from the Atlantic, authored by marriage researcher W. Bradford Wilcox. The article discusses the variances between cohabitating men and women regarding goals and expectations.

Excerpt:

According to a new paper from RAND by sociologists Michael Pollard and Kathleen Mullan Harris, cohabiting young adults have significantly lower levels of commitment than their married peers. This aversion to commitment is particularly prevalent among young men who live with their partners.

Pollard and Harris found that the majority of cohabiting young men do not endorse the maximum indicator of relationship permanence: 52 percent of cohabiting men between ages 18 and 26 are not “almost certain” that their relationship is permanent. Moreover, a large minority (41 percent) of men report that they are not “completely committed” to their live-in girlfriends. By contrast, only 39 percent of cohabiting women in the same age group are not “almost certain” their relationship will go the distance, and only 26 percent say they are not “completely committed”. Not surprisingly, the figures above and below also indicate that married women and men are much less likely to exhibit the low levels of commitment characteristic of many cohabiting relationships today.

[…]The only thing worse than being in a relationship for years with an uncommitted person, it would seem, is marrying one. Research by psychologists Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades, spotlighted in a New York Times op-ed last year, suggests that cohabiting couples are in for trouble when they “slide” into cohabitation and then marriage rather than “decide” to take the same steps. Their work indicates that many couples begin living together without clear expectations, common values, or a shared commitment to one another. And after a time, some of these couples get married, in part because friends, family, and they themselves think it’s the logical next step. But without common values and a shared sense of commitment, the couples who slide into cohabitation and marriage, instead of purposely deciding to deepen their commitment to one another, are more likely to divorce.

Stanley and Rhoades illustrate this point by pointing to the research on cohabitation, engagement, and divorce. Women who cohabit prior to engagement are about 40 percent more likely to divorce, compared to those who do not cohabit. By contrast, couples who cohabit after an engagement do not face a higher divorce risk. Those who cohabit only after engagement or marriage also report higher marital quality, not just lower odds of divorce. Stanley and Rhoades think that “sliders” are more likely than “deciders” to cohabit prior to an engagement, and to have trouble in their marriage if they go on to tie the knot. On the other hand, couples who deliberately choose to move in together after a public engagement or wedding are more likely to enjoy the shared commitment that will enable their relationship to last.

So, given the low levels of commitment and the gender mismatch in expectations often found among today’s cohabiting couples, young men and especially women who aspire to a strong and stable marriage should take caution when considering moving in together.

You can click through the article to see the graphs he is talking about in the excerpt. Highly recommended. It turns out that women cannot just pick a good-looking guy and drift into a commitment by stringing together good days and good experiences. Ladies, let’s be clear. A man who will have recreational premarital sex with you before marriage is not looking for marriage, but recreation. Marriage is a commitment to work hard, be disciplined, be self-sacrificial and to compromise with another person – all in close quarters. When choosing a mate, you need to look for someone who is good at commitments. Not someone who is good at fun.

The ability to have fun with a man is not a good predictor of marital success because fun is unrelated to the things that a man really does in a marriage: protect, provide, and lead on moral and spiritual issues. Similarly, the ability to impress your friends with a man’s appearance or entertainment value does not make a commitment work. What makes a commitment work… is a man who demonstrates that he is good at making plans and achieving goals through discipline and hard work. Marriage requires making plans and achieving goals more than it requires having fun. Recreational premarital sex is about having fun – not making plans and achieving goals. Instead of talking about the next good time with a man, maybe women need to learn to talk about the mechanics of marriage with a man. And talk about the man’s roles in a marraige with a man. And then they need to learn to avoid men who don’t have plans and who aren’t ready to perform those roles. There are plenty of men who are not “bad boys” who do have plans and who are ready to perform traditional male roles.

A final point. I have noticed today that women tend to avoid men who have strong, exclusive views on moral questions and spiritual questions. The minute a man expresses a moral point of view or a theological argument, women tend to want to avoid him. Sometimes they fear rejection from men with definite convictions. Sometimes they resent male leadership. And there are other reasons to avoid strong men. The problem is that a man who has definite moral views is exactly the kind of man who is likely to be trustworthy and predictable in the marriage. And a man who has definite spiritual views is exactly the kind of man who is going to have some sort of overarching plan for the marriage (AND PARENTING) beyond mere pleasure. You wouldn’t choose someone who was guided by hedonism to be your stock broker or your medical doctor, because doing a hard job requires self-sacrifice and discipline. The same rule applies to choosing husbands. Husbands have duties that are typically best performed by moral, spiritual men.

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