URC

The Effects of Divorce on the Perception of Cohabitation

Whitney Hacker
Berea College

Abstract

This study examines the relationship between a college students’ experience with the divorce of a parent or guardian and their perception of cohabitation. Results of this study show that a majority of students who have experienced parental divorce feel that cohabitation is circumstantial, as opposed to being purely positive or negative. However, a majority of those students who have negative feelings toward cohabitation are also those students who have not experienced the divorce of a parent. Although intervening variables may have existed, the study supported the position that college students who have experienced the divorce of a parent have a different perception of cohabitation than college students who have not experienced the divorce of a parent.

Keywords divorce, cohabitation, students, perception

Introduction

Kurt Cobain once said, “I had a really good childhood up until I was nine, then a classic case of divorce really affected me (Brainy Quote, 2010).” He used “classic” to describe an act that can be emotionally, physically, and intellectually draining to nearly all who experience it. Although a divorce is incontestably difficult for all, it is the children of the family who truly suffer the consequences. Similar to Cobain, many children admit that a parent’s divorce is a particular event that deeply affected them. Currently, over 50 percent of all marriages result in divorce (Office of Information Services, 2009). Those from the same group who remarry are 67 percent likely to experience divorce in a second marriage; and 74 percent likely to experience divorce in a third marriage (Office of Information Services, 2009).

 The cycle of failed marriages is logically detrimental to the children involved. The increasing rate of cohabitation among young couples suggests that more young people are likely to cohabitate than ever before. Could it be that the children are so affected from the negative relation to marriage that they are prone to choosing a different option? Reasonably, young adult children of divorced couples may have a different perception of cohabitation than adult children who did not experience a parent’s divorce.

Purpose of Study

This study examined whether or not the divorce of a parent or guardian had an effect on the perception of young adults on cohabitation. More specifically, the study attempted to determine if college students who have experienced divorce of parents or guardians were more likely to accept cohabitation as an option than those adult children whose parents have not divorced.

Justification of Study

The basic functioning of all human life depends upon the inner workings of the individual and the family. If a large proportion of families in the world are corrupted with various factors that ultimately lead to the termination of marriage, it is crucial not only to examine the possible causation for the failed union but also to consider the pending effects. As the literature review supported, previous inquiries have examined the parent-child relationship specifically in reference to disruptive or terminated marriages and the probable outcomes for children. Also, a broader consideration of cohabitation raises the concern that a lack of commitment, financial stability, and other important factors may exist in households in which the adults are not married.

Furthermore, cohabitation serves as a potential contributor to disruptive households for children and also as a potentially less stable union for the adults involved. It is essential to contemporary family science not only to inspect the concept of cohabitation but also to consider that another common issue such as divorce may affect the decision of couples to cohabitate.

Hypothesis

College students who have experienced a parental divorce will be more likely to have a positive perception of cohabitation than college students who have not experienced a parental divorce.

Definition of Independent and Dependent Variables

In this study, whether or not one’s parents have divorced was the independent variable. The perception of each participant on the practice of cohabitation was the dependent variable.

Definition of Terms

Although cohabitation has been defined in a variety of ways, this study considered cohabitation as the arrangement that two partners have when they are emotionally and/or sexually intimate and are also living in the same residence. Although the length of time in which the partners reside together was not outlined in the research instrument, it was assumed that each person completed the survey based on any experience of living with a romantic partner. It was also assumed that the partners had been living together either on a permanent or long term basis and were not married.

Furthermore, the experience of divorce for each participant had to be a legal termination of marriage as defined by the state in which the given individuals lived. The study did not account for parental separations, lack of marriage, or other forms of non-traditional households. The experience of divorce may have varied in severity for the individuals as a whole, but still accounted toward the overall goal of measuring perception of cohabitation.

Review of Literature

As mentioned previously, the purpose of the study was particularly relevant due to the high rate of divorce and overall dysfunction among families in the United States. Although families are growing and changing and adapting to new sets of expectations, it is common for families to be different. Blended families, step families, grandparents as guardians, adoptive families, gay and lesbian parents, and many more combinations of individuals are serving as a new standard that allows for diversity in familial units. The nuclear family—once thought to set the mold for all others—is no longer a societal norm but a utopian ideal that is being pushed further and further into the past. Although conflicting opinions exist about whether or not particular types of nontraditional families are healthy overall, much speculation has been raised regarding families that do not choose to be a part of the institution of marriage or simply choose to cohabitate for some period of time. Consequently, a great deal of attention has focused on the topic of divorce and the effect of marital issues on other members of a given family.

Researchers such as Cherlin (2008), Cunninham & Thornton (2005), Manning (2006), Riggio (2004), and Sviggum (2000) have explored the concept of parental disputes and the effect(s), if any, on the children involved. The level of stability among parents can greatly influence how the idea of families and relationships are reflected in the child. It seems that cohabitation rates are increasing, both in the adult children of parents whom are divorced and in the parents themselves. Intergenerational patterns certainly exist in human relations, but it is not clear if cohabitation and/or the failure of a marriage are examples of such. The objective of the proposed study is to identify the relationship between parental marital status and perception of the adult children on cohabitation. Naturally, it is pertinent to explore the vast aspects of cohabitation, marriage, and typical effects of said disputes on a child’s well being. Although disputes or arguments do not always lead to a divorce, they can contribute if severe to marital separations or eventually termination of marriage. If the effects are significant enough, the children could mature to have a view of commitment or marital status that is different from adult children from families that are still intact.

Non-traditional Parenting on a Child’s Well Being

A focus on the well being of children in households of divorce, cohabitation, or other familial structures that have challenged the nuclear structure is particularly relevant for the children of today. Klausli and Owen (2009) studied the effect of unmarried, cohabitating parents on the children involved. The study showed that mothers who were cohabitating with the fathers of their children experience more ambivalence and conflict with their partner than mothers who are married to the child’s father. The higher risk of conflict was related to a higher risk of developmental problems in children (Klausli & Owen, 2009). Cherlin’s (2008) study compared the well-being of children who experienced a parent’s multiple partnerships with possible outcomes in their lives. The growth in multiple partnerships was credited with the rise in cohabitation rates. The standards for partners of cohabitation were lower than those for a potential spouse. Children were reported to have much difficulty in adjusting and forming new relationships after exposure to this cycle (Cherlin, 2008). Further concern for a child’s well-being has been raised, particularly in terms of divorce and cohabitation on a child’s life. The instability of their environment sets a tone for what feels natural and normal, potentially leaving it difficult for them to reach stability in their own adult life. As Manning (2006) stated, “Differentiating between cohabitating-couple households and other unmarried mother families is important because the children may have substantially different childhood experiences” (p. 25). Manning suggested that cohabitation could actually be advantageous for children because it does provide two incomes and two caregivers. However, it can affect a child’s perception of commitment and relationship with others due to the (sometimes) short duration and informal structure (Manning, 2006).

Sviggum (2000) provided helpful collateral information with his work interpreting how children view a parent’s divorce. To understand the possible outcomes a child may experience after a trauma such as the divorce of parents, it is relevant to understand how a child views the event. Sviggum interviewed 15 children of divorced families and found that many children understood the separation in a very vivid and mature way. One thirteen-year-old child said, “I was thinking that children are not allowed to quarrel, but when parent’s do, they can just move away from each other” (Sviggum, 2000, p. 69). In addition to the child’s comment, it is relevant to consider that “moving away” is not an easy option if a formal commitment is introduced into the household. If a couple is married, they must endure paperwork, fees, and sometimes timeless court visits to fully eliminate official ties to the significant other. On the other hand, if a couple is merely cohabitating, they can just “move away,” as the child suggested (Sniggum, 2000).

Similarly, a twelve-year-old recalled the way his father told him of the decision, stating “I was sitting on the sofa when Dad told me—he was about to go somewhere. I took it almost as though it was nothing” (Sviggum, 2000, p. 69). Each child learns at a young age that marriage is temporary, easy to abandon, and almost “nothing” to walk away from (Sviggum, 2000). If children are conditioned throughout all of their young lives to question the sanction of marriage and even commitments in general, it would seem reasonable to suggest that the children will be less fond of a formal union once they become of age. Lastly, Hughes (2007) examined the perceptions of adult children on divorce, specifically in relation to their mothers. Her five-year longitudinal study suggested that familial separation could lead to early maturation and a “plethora of difficulties” for the children (Hughes, 2007, p. 565). Adult children of divorce (nearly) unanimously expressed a number of negative feelings toward the bonds with their parents (Hughes, 2007, p. 574). Some children had incidents at a beach or in a swimming pool and tended to stay away from the water. Some children get nauseated on a roller coaster at a theme park and refrained from riding similar coasters in the future. If children relate a large amount of negativity to marriage as a child, they may be more inclined to stay away from marriage. This study also provided some positive feedback in relation to the parents in question, but it did not expand to study the perception of adult children of divorce in their romantic relationships (Hughes, 2007).

Parental Instability and Offspring Adjustment

Several studies provided valuable information regarding the consequences of marital issues on a child’s life, particularly in the adolescent years. D’Onofrio, Turkheimer, Emery, Heath, Madden, Slutske, and Martin (2006) made an important statement in saying that “Socioeconomic status, educational attainment, early sexual activity, non-marital childbirth, earlier marriage, and cohabitation are associated with the separation of one’s parents.” The study also considered the “effect sizes,” meaning the level or seriousness of what children experience as a result of parental divorce (D’Onofrio et al., 2006). The effect sizes are said to be “larger in late adolescence and young adulthood than at earlier ages” (D’Onofrio et al., 2006, p. 486). Unfortunately, this also happens to be a typical period when the children are engaging in romantic relationships of their own. The validity of the study could be at risk due to the lack of reliability of the subjects. It was noted that some discrepancies existed due to participants that would later change their answers to questions concerning topics of history of intercourse, cohabitation, intoxication, etc. (D’Onofrio et al., 2006).

Pelton and Forehand (2001) evaluated the role of parental divorce in regard to mother and adolescent perceptions of the relationship. The study was conducted cross-sectionally and longitudinally to examine the perspective of the parent to child and child to parent in terms of their relationship post-divorce. Both the mother and adolescent child reported that their perception of conflict was directly related to the adolescent’s level of adjustment to the post-divorce circumstances (Pelton & Forehand, 2001). Although it seems advantageous that both the child and the parent were actively evaluating the child’s progress, it does leave questions concerning the consequences of adjustment or lack of adjustment.

Relationship Anxiety in Young Adulthood

Although analysis of children within the disruptive households are most concerning in terms of safety, it is the young adult children who may experience the consequences of their experience on a more direct, personal level. Fittingly, college aged students are often at a stage in their lives that they are experiencing serious relationships or at least the thought of more serious relationships in their lives. The ways in which the college students with parental divorce experience react to growing commitment with a partner in comparison to the reactions of college students without parental divorce experience is important to study. In 2005, Cunningham and Thornton conducted a study to see how the influences of parents’ and offsprings’ experience with cohabitation, marriage, and divorce affected the perception of divorce for young adults. Among the young adults studied, “direct entry into marriage decreases divorce tolerance, but marriage preceded by cohabitation does not” (Cunningham & Thornton, 2005, p. 143). Also, a divorce experience from a first marriage dramatically increased the acceptance of divorce for the parents and young adults (Cunningham & Thornton, 2005). Riggio (2004) found that “parental conflict negatively affects children’s attachment to parents and subsequent feelings of security in relationships” (Riggio, 2004, p. 99). Her study also pointed out that the offspring were typically more independent, responsible, self-reliant, and other seemingly positive qualities (Riggio, 2004). However, if young adults are more self-reliant and independent, they could potentially be more likely to want to keep their independence—perhaps resisting the confinement of traditional marriage. Riggio’s research suggested that “young adults from divorced families are likely to cohabitate and marry earlier than young adults from married families” (Riggio, 2004, p. 110). Her research also stated that young adults who experience divorce feel less anxiety about participating in relationships because they have already experienced relationship dissolution (Riggio, 2004). Although the results were certainly relevant, they failed to make a clear prediction of the perception of young adults toward marriage, cohabitation, or other forms of commitment.

Similarly, a less recent study examined cohabiters vs. non-cohabiters post-marriage. Newcomb and Bentler (1980) found that among cohabiters, the rates of divorce were greatest if the couple had lived together for less than three months (at 50%) or longer than eleven months (at 42%) before marrying (Newcomb & Bentler, 1980, p. 14). The lowest rates consisted of couples living together for three to ten months prior to marriage (Newcomb & Bentler, 1980, p. 14). The final results determined that there were no significant differences in divorce rates or level of marital satisfaction between couples whom cohabitated versus those that did not cohabitate prior to marriage. Although the “type” of person who chooses to cohabitate may not be clearly defined, it was indicated that the cohabitation itself might not affect the succeeding marriage. Those results are particularly significant because they suggested findings that predict no change in perception, or at least in the practice of cohabitation for those with experience of divorce. The results would be useful in comparison to the proposed study on perception of Berea College students toward the issue of cohabitation.

Dolbik-Vorobei (2005) reported a study specifically concerning college students and what they thought of marital and parental problems. In the 2005 study, 61 percent of the students were legally married, and 39 percent of the students were in a “de facto” union, or cohabitation (Dolbik-Vorbei, 2005, p. 48). The study also found that women were entering into marital relations earlier and more actively and that many students viewed cohabitation as the best way to get to know a person in everyday life—a convenience (Dolbik-Vorbei, 2005). Although the study did confirm that more and more students were cohabitating before or in place of marriage, it did not suggest any specific reasons.

Cohabitation as a Familial Issue

Although a previous study mentioned the quality of independence and self-reliance in relation to young adults who experienced divorce, Eggebeen’s (2005) study noted similar qualities in young adults that were already cohabitating. His study claimed that cohabitating young adults were significantly less likely to be exchanging support with their parents than their married or single, non-cohabitating counterparts. He also stated that they were less likely to rely on a parent in times of increased stress or an emergency (Eggebeen, 2005, p. 1097). It is not mentioned if the cohabitating subjects also experienced divorce, but the relation between the two is questionable. It is clear from the study that giving and receiving support from extended family relied heavily on cohabitation status.

Youn and Song (2001) viewed a different aspect of familial cohabitation, but discovered very unique results. Particularly in Korean families, the cohabitation status of adult children or parents strongly affects the relationship quality of the family as a whole (Youn & Song, 2001, p. 299). If parents were cohabiters rather than married, the adult children likely had significant disrespect and extended conflict toward them. The results are interesting in comparison to other findings that suggest generational patterns rather than disapproval and disgrace. In the case of the Korean families, it is suggested that the relationship status is less likely to be repeated in the lives of the offspring and more likely to cause an overall dispute (Youn & Song, 2001, p. 299).

Although each of the studies provided relevant material for examining the consequences of non-traditional households on a child’s well-being, issues of parental instability on offspring adjustment, relationship anxiety in young adulthood, or the familial issues relating to cohabitation, there is not a thorough investigation of how children from the non-traditional households (namely divorce) perceive cohabitation. It is predicted that as divorce rates increase, marital instabilities become more common, non-traditional household support grows, and more adult children will consider the option of cohabitation in their personal relationships.

Methodology

Research Design

The purpose of this study was to determine whether or not a relationship existed between the experience of parental divorce and college student’s perception of cohabitation. An invitation to participate in the study was emailed to one-third of the Berea College student body with an electronic survey attached. The students were selected at random using a pre-made student list on the Berea College webmail system. Every third student on the list was chosen to receive the link, totaling roughly 400 students as potential participants in the study. Although every student was not expected to participate, it was anticipated that a minimum of one hundred students with divorce experience and one hundred students without divorce experience would engage in the study for a reasonable comparison. The instrument was designed to determine the perception of each individual toward the practice of cohabitation.

Population and Sample Design

Berea College students served as the population for study. Although roughly one-third of the study body was sent a copy of the survey for participation, 239 students completed the survey for use in the study. A total of 84 percent of participants reported being single, 5 percent cohabitating; and 11 percent married. Of the student participants, 46 percent had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian, and 54 percent reported no experience of parental divorce. Two-thirds of the participants were female. Respondents were mostly in young adulthood, with 91 percent of participants ranging between ages 16 and 23 and 9 percent between the ages of 24 and 31. However, non-traditional students, who are generally older, still contributed to the study without bias. Students were chosen at random using a pre-made student email-forwarding list that comprised all students, regardless of class standing, age, etc. Names for numbers one, two, and three were recorded and placed in a hat for selection. The name drawn represented the starting point on the email list (i.e., number three represented the third name alphabetically). Once a starting name was established, every third name on the list was added to the sample. The selection ensured that roughly one-third of the student population had the opportunity to participate in the study. Randomized student selection was particularly important in relation to the Berea College campus due to its focus on diversity. The campus is notably comprised of students of many different ages, ethnicities, and a wide variety of personal background. The diverse group contributed toward an even more unique perspective on family life and that of cohabiting couples. However, the sample consisted only of those within the selected group that actually agreed to take the survey.

Discussion of Instrument

The instrument used for this study was an electronic survey formulated through the Kwik Surveys© website (http://www.kwiksurveys.com). Participants were asked a series of questions in relation to their experience with divorce, cohabitation, and feelings toward the practice of cohabitation in general. The survey was divided into parts according to the subject it covered. Part one inquired about the current details regarding the participant: age, marital status, and sex. Questions concerning any past experience of divorce, cohabitation, and simple statements regarding the feelings toward cohabitation were presented in part two. Part three was reserved for those with divorce experience only; questions relating to the subject’s age at the time of divorce and the impact of the experience were asked. The fourth and final portion of the survey was reserved solely for those that already had experience as cohabiters. Said participants were asked questions regarding the length of time cohabitated, number of partners with whom he or she had resided, and specifics regarding the possible reasons for the cohabitation in particular.

The survey asked several questions to establish one’s experience with divorce and/or cohabitation. Participants were also asked about their perception of the socially constructed categories to further determine if the two variables correlated. Each question offered several options as a response, avoiding any “fill-in” answers or those that are seemingly neutral and less helpful during analysis. Although participants were forced to respond in one of the given ways, the answers were typically very different and offered some variety. A pilot test was conducted using thirteen mock-participants and their responses. The original survey was edited to best suit the questions and concerns identified during the pilot session. See Appendix B for a final copy of the survey.

Data Collection Procedures

For the purposes of this study, a survey was administered via an electronic survey site at Kwik Surveys © (http://www.kwiksurveys.com), using questions formulated to gain both a sufficient background from participants and their perception of cohabitating. Berea College students were chosen at random using a pre-made student email-forwarding list that comprised all students enrolled at the college. Numbers one, two, and three were recorded and placed in a hat for selection. The number drawn represented the starting point on the email list. Once a starting name was established, only the third names were selected. One-third of the student body was then sent a link to the survey, as well as an introduction letter to inform participants of any research details. An invitation for questions and comments was added to the email, and participants were encouraged to halt participation if they did not wish to continue. Kwik Surveys© technologies tallied results in percentage form to include the responses as each survey was completed. Individual student surveys were also made available if needed.

Data Analysis Procedures

The data supplied by Kwik Surveys© were analyzed to determine a positive or negative view of cohabitation as directly questioned in Part two of the survey. Part one was used to classify the participants in categories of age and marital status. It was particularly relevant to determine if the participants were already married or cohabitating to indicate responses based on previous life experiences. Parts three and four of the survey were used to obtain further information regarding the two special groups: cohabiters with or without divorce experience and non-cohabiters with or without divorce experience.

In addition to positive and negative responses, other responses relating to the severity of their parent’s divorce were crucial in determining if a correlation existed not only between those who experienced divorce and preferred cohabitation as an option but also the level of negative impact from a parental divorce that played an influencing role in the perception. To code for possible intervening variables such as age at the time of parent’s divorce or number of cohabitating partners, such questions had been asked in appropriate categories of the survey. Percentages from each of the questions about perception were used to analyze the data collectively.

For further analysis it was necessary to manually calculate responses using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet of the individual survey responses. Each row on the final spreadsheet represented survey responses of a participant. The most convenient way to categorize and organize the data for analysis was to highlight or flag parts of each participant’s responses in a chosen color. When particular colors matched up, an interpretation could be made. For example, when participants identified as “single,” they would be coded green; “married” was coded as pink; and “cohabitating” coded as blue. Following those particular categories, all surveys marked “green” would be separated from pink and blue categories in considering the participants’ other responses, such as how they felt about cohabitation for a friend or relative. It was expected that there would be a clear difference between the perception responses of individuals who had experienced divorce and those that had not. However, it was possible that individuals from both groups could respond similarly and have a general perception based on the age group in question. 

Results

In reviewing the results, the independent variable of whether or not one’s parents had divorced was compared to the dependent variable of the perception of cohabitation using responses to an electronic survey as distributed to a random sample of Berea College students. All of the results were intended to accept or reject the formulated hypothesis. It was expected that the students who had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian would have a different perception of cohabitation than those students who had not experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian.

Table 1: Participant marital status

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

Single

89

110

Cohabitating

9

3

Married

10

16

Table 1 shows the actual number of participants who indicated that they were either single, married, or cohabitating. A majority of participants, regardless of experience with parental divorce, were single. A potential bias in the study of Berea College students is that the students are not legally capable of cohabitating unless given formal approval to live off-campus rather than on-campus. However, survey results indicated that 12 of the participants were cohabitating. Another 26 of the participants reported being married, of which a majority indicated that they had not experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian. Interestingly, a majority of those cohabitating reported that they had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian.

Table 2: Participant perception of why people cohabitate

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

To Test Compatibility

36

43

Convenience in Relationship

62

70

As a Substitution for Marriage

12

16

Table 2 shows the participants’ reasoning as to why people cohabitate in general. Both categories (those who had and had not experienced parental divorce) indicate reasoning of “convenience in relationship” overall, with “to test compatibility” as the second most popular response. Each potential answer had a similar number of respondents among the categories of divorce experience vs. no divorce experience.

Table 3: Participant history of cohabitation

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

Have Cohabitated

37

34

Have Not Cohabitated

73

95

Table 3 reflects the participant history of cohabitation. Participants were simply asked to indicate whether or not they were currently or had cohabitated within their lifetime. Of the participants who had experience parental divorce, 33 percent also indicated that they had experience with cohabitation. A total of 67 percent of those participants who had experienced parental divorce said that they had not cohabitated. Of the participants who had no experience with parental divorce, 26 percent indicated that they had cohabitated. A total of 74 percent of participants without parental divorce experience had also not cohabitated.

Table 4: Participant feelings toward cohabitation for a friend or relative

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

Positive

29

17

Negative

18

35

Depends on the Circumstances

63

77

Table 4 shows the participant feelings toward cohabitation for a friend or relative. A majority (29) of the students who responded as having positive feelings toward cohabitation had also indicated experience with parental divorce. A majority (35) of the students who answered as having negative feelings toward cohabitation had no reported experience with parental divorce. Overall, participants from both categories reported that cohabitation for a friend or relative was circumstantial, rather than always positive or always negative.

Table 5: Participant feelings toward cohabitation for self

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

Positive

36

34

Negative

27

43

Depends on the Circumstances

49

52

Table 5 is similar to the findings in Table 4 in referring to the feelings toward cohabitation. However, Table 5 refers to the feelings of each participant on cohabitation for themselves. A close number of participants (36 with parental divorce experience; 34 with no parental divorce experience) reported positive feelings of cohabitation for themselves. However, a higher number of participants in each category reported cohabitation as circumstantial—49 participants whom had experienced parental divorce and 52 participants whom had not experienced parental divorce. Of the participants who expressed cohabitation as a negative option, 43 had no experience with parental divorce and 27 had experience with parental divorce.

Table 6: Participant views of cohabitation as a “safe” option as a substitution or pre-marriage

 

PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

NO PARENTAL DIVORCE EXPERIENCE

Yes

72

63

No

38

66

Table 6 shows participant views of cohabitation as a “safe” option, particularly in terms of cohabitation as a substitution or pre-marriage. A majority (72) of the participants with parental divorce experience answered yes, that cohabitation is a “safe” option as a substitution or pre-marriage. A majority (66) of participants without parental divorce experience answered no, that cohabitation is not a “safe” option as a substitution or pre-marriage.

Table 7: Participant age at time of parental divorce

0-6 years

55

7-10 years

23

11-18 years

30

19+ years

3

Not applicable

129

Table 7 shows the ages of participants’ if/when they experienced a parental divorce. The participants who had not experienced a parental divorce account for 129 of the “Not applicable” category. The highest percentage of participants who had experienced a divorce was between the ages of 0 and 6 (55 total participants). Twenty-three of the participants were 7 to 10 years old; 30 participants were 11 to 18 years old; and 3 participants were 19 or older when they experienced a parental divorce.

Table 8: Participant level of negative impact from parental divorce

Little to no negative impact

27

Moderate negative impact

59

Severe negative impact

35

Not applicable

129

Table 8 refers to the participant’s view of how negatively the divorce impacted their lives. Of the participants who experienced a parental divorce, 27 indicated little to no negative impact; 59 indicated a moderate negative impact, and 35 indicated a severe negative impact from the parental divorce. One hundred twenty-nine students reported no experience of parental divorce responded “not applicable.”

Table 9: Participants rating of how their perception of cohabitation is affected by divorce

Perception affected

44

Perception not affected

66

Not applicable

129

Table 9 shows the participants’ response of whether or not their perception of cohabitation is affected by their experience with parental divorce. Of the applicable respondents, 44 respondents suggested that their perception has been affected by the divorce. The remaining 66 participants indicated that they did not feel that their perception of cohabitation had been affected by their parental divorce. All participants who had previously reported having no experience with parental divorce also chose “not applicable” to this question.

Table 10: Participant reasoning for personal cohabitation

To test compatibility

16

Convenience in relationship

41

As a substitution for marriage

6

Not applicable

175

Table 10 refers to the participant’s reported reasoning for their personal cohabitation. A total of 41 respondents reported that they cohabitate primarily for the convenience in the relationship. Another 16 of the participants reported cohabitating as a means of testing compatibility between themselves and their partner. Only 6 participants indicated cohabitating as a means of substituting for or conducting a pre- marriage.

Conclusion

Accepting or Rejecting Hypotheses

The hypothesis predicted that college students who had experienced a parental divorce would be more likely to have a positive perception of cohabitation than college students who had not experienced a parental divorce. Overall, more of the students who found cohabitation to be positive for themselves and also for friends or relative were the students who reported having experienced a parental divorce. Similarly, more of the students who found cohabitation to be negative for themselves and also for friends or relative were the students who reported no experience with a parental divorce. Furthermore, 141 participants (either with or without parental divorce experience) reported cohabitation to be circumstantial for a friend or relative. Overall, 103 participants (either with or without parental divorce experience) reported cohabitation to be circumstantial for themselves. As expected in hypothesizing the study, participants who had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian were more likely to have positive feelings of cohabitation than those participants who had not experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian.

Interpretations of the Results

The results reflect a variety of factors as represented among the survey questions. As shown in tables 1 through 6, respondents were primarily grouped into categories based on whether or not they had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian. A total of 46 percent of all participants had experienced a parental divorce; a remaining 54 percent had not experienced a parental divorce.

First, respondents indicating that they had experienced a parental divorce were analyzed for further interpretation. Said participants indicated that the main reason that most people cohabitate is to have convenience in a relationship. Also, although most of the respondents in the experienced category had not cohabitated, the number of participants who had cohabitated previously was larger than those participants who had cohabitated but not experienced parental divorce. It could be that cohabitating participants also tended to fall into the category of parental divorce experience because they had witnessed a negative example of marriage during their childhood and were more likely to seek an alternative union for their own lives. Similarly, those participants may have been more likely to have positive feelings toward cohabitation for others due to an understanding of the negative possibilities with marriage. The high level of agreement for cohabitation as a substitution or pre-marriage could also be related to negative memories of a parents’ marriage or to the notion of a legalized union altogether.

Second, respondents indicating that they had not experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian were analyzed for further interpretation. Said participants indicated that the main reason that most people cohabitate is to have convenience in a relationship. Although most of the respondents in the experienced category had not cohabitated, the category had fewer respondents that had cohabitated in comparison to the cohabiters indicated for those who had also experienced a parental divorce. It could be that those participants who had not experienced a parental divorce were less likely to cohabitate because they had not witnessed a negative example of marriage during their childhood and were less likely to seek an alternative union for their own lives. Because the category would reasonably include a large number of persons who had experienced an intact marriage, they would potentially be more prone to wanting a legal union. Similarly, those participants may have been more likely to have negative feelings toward cohabitation for others due to inexperience with alternative unions. The low level of agreement for cohabitation as a substitution or pre-marriage could also be related to positive memories of a parents’ marriage or to the notion of a legalized union altogether. If participants had fewer or no negative associations with marriage, they would reasonably have less desire for a substitution or alternative form of commitment.

Findings Related to Review of Literature

One of the primary purposes for conducting the study stemmed from the high rate of divorce and cohabitation in the United States. The intent was to investigate the issue by a comparison between two of the related components of marriage: a termination of one (divorce) and an alternative union (cohabitation). Although all of the previously mentioned studies provided supporting information in formulating the research design, several reports had particular significance to the results of this study. As noted by Cherlin (2008), multiple partnerships among parents may directly influence the well-being of children. Well-being includes mental and emotional problems during their childhood years as well as ability to engage in a healthy, stable relationship in their own lives as young adults. The instability or multiple partnership pattern of a parent seems to relate to the rise in cohabitation rates. Cherlin (2008) reported that students in the study who reported having unmarried/divorced parents also reported more positive feelings toward the idea of cohabitation. The results can also be linked to the D’ Onofrio et al. (2006) study which supported the idea that socioeconomic status, educational attainment, early sexual activity, non-marital childbirth, early marriage, and cohabitation were all associated with the separation of one’s parents. Although the subject study did not address the other issues covered by D’ Onofrio and others (2006), it did show results that a higher percentage of those with a history of cohabitation were also those participants with a history of parental divorce.

This study also inquired about the participants’ perception of any negative impact that occurred in their personal lives due to the divorce of their parents. Although only 13 percent of the students reported their parental divorce had severely impacted their lives, another 24 percent of respondents indicated that they were moderately impacted, and 10 percent were not affected at all. Fifty-three percent had not experienced a parental divorce (See Table 9). The results can be related to Sviggum’s (2002) study that supported the idea that children understand separation in a very mature way. If students are less likely to report that they were affected in a severe way, it could be connected to their level of comprehension of the events. Conprehension level could also be related to Hughes’ (2007) report which indicated that children who experienced divorce tended to mature very early. Both studies suggested maturation and development of the child in relation to their parents’ marital status.

All participants were asked for the reason they thought most people cohabitated. Results showed that a majority of students assume that people cohabitate for the “convenience in relationship,” which is very similar to the findings of Dolbik-Vorobei in 2005, who (2005) found that many students were cohabitating as a means of getting to know someone in the most practical way—a convenient way for each person to share personal details about themselves. Likewise, the students with cohabitating experience were asked about the main reason they cohabitated, and the majority responded as doing so for the “convenience in relationship.” Both the current study and Dolbik-Vorbei’s (2005) findings indicated a reason for cohabitation that is not necessarily for testing or substituting marriage.

Problems with Possible Intervening Variables or Biases

Possible intervening variables included the subject’s age at time of parental divorce (if applicable), religious or moral reasoning, and cultural influences. Possible biases included the inability but desire to have a legal union (i.e., lack of recognition for civil unions in the state of Kentucky) and the influence that the liberal arts institution might have had on each participant’s perception of cohabitation. It was assumed that other personal biases may have existed, but were less easily addressed within the questionnaire. Although religious, moral, or cultural reasoning was not addressed in any way, participants were encouraged to halt the survey if at any time they did not feel comfortable in continuing. It is possible that the data were skewed in terms of circumstantial perception due to the liberal arts education at Berea College. The sample consisted of individuals that were all chosen from a private college with goals and commitments that could contribute toward the marital or social outlook of the students.

Suggestions for Further Research

Both cohabitation and divorce are popular topics amongst social scientists. These areas need further examination in order to understand the many issues of contemporary families. Recommendations for further study include examination of these issues at colleges and universities throughout the nation. It would be interesting to derive a larger sample and various populations to test the reliability of the instrument as well as to compare various groups. A study to compare perceptions among college students from Berea College with similar aged young adults who have not had any higher education would yield additional information. The lack of educational influence would remove any bias of the particular institution and focus more on the general outlook of young adults based on whether or not they had experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian.

Reference List

Brainy Quote. (2010, February). Brainy Quote. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/k/kurtcobain167127.html

Cherlin, A. J. (2008). Multiple partnerships and children's wellbeing. Family Matters, (80), 33-36. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Cunningham, M., & Thornton, A. (2005). The influences of parents' and offsprings' experience with cohabitation, marriage, and divorce on attitudes toward divorce in young adulthood. Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 44(1/2), 119-144. DOI:10.1300/J087v44n01-07

D'Onofrio, B. M., Turkheimer, E., Emery, R. E., Heath, A. C., Madden, P. A., Slutske, W. S., & Martin, N. G. (2006). A genetically informed study of the rrocesses underlying the association between parental marital instability and offspring adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 42(3), 486-499. DOI:10.1037/0012-1649.42.3.486

Dolbik-Vorobei, T. A. (2005). What college students think about problems of marriage and having children. Russian Education & Society, 47(6), 47-58. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Eggebeen, D. J. (2005). Cohabitation and exchanges of support. Social Forces, 83(3), 1097-1110. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Hughes, K. (2007). Mothering mothers: an exploration of the perceptions of adult children of divorce. Australian Journal of Social Issues, 42(4), 563-579. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Klausli, J. F., & Owen, M. (2009). Stable maternal cohabitation, couple relationship quality, and characteristics of the home environment in the child's first two years. Journal of Family Psychology, 23(1), 103-106. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Manning, W. D. (2006). Cohabitation and child well-being. Gender Issues, 23(3), 21-34. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Newcomb, M. D., & Bentler, P. M. (1980). Assessment of personality and demographic aspects of cohabitation and marital success. Journal of Personality Assessment, 44(1), 11. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Office of Information Services. (2009, December 22). Marriage and Divorce. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/divorce.htm

Pelton, J., & Forehand, R. (2001). Discrepancy between mother and child perceptions of their relationship: I. consequences for adolescents considered within the context of parental divorce. Journal of Family Violence, 16(1), 1-15. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Riggio, H. R. (2004). Parental marital conflict and divorce, parent-child relationships, social support, and relationship anxiety in young adulthood. Personal Relationships, 11(1), 99-114. doi:10.1111/j.1475-6811.2004.00073.x

Sviggum, G. (2000). How children view their parents' divorce. Family Matters, (55), 62-67. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

Youn, G., & Song, D. (1992). Aging koreans' perceived conflicts in relationships with their

offspring as a function of age, gender, cohabitation status, and marital status. Journal of Social Psychology, 132(3), 299-305. http://web.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail?...

 

 

Appendix A:

Letter of Introduction

Participant,

My name is Whitney Hacker. I am a senior at Berea College, with a major in Child and Family Studies with an interest in contemporary family issues. My capstone research project is dealing with the relationship between parental divorce and the perceptions of cohabitation. I would appreciate 3 minutes of your time. Please click on the link below, which will take you to the survey I have created.

Thank you.

Survey Link: https://www.kwiksurveys.com?s=INMJII_449e99a1

 

Appendix B:

Instrument

The purpose of this survey is to gather information about parental divorce and students' perceptions of cohabitation. All responses are anonymous and the information from individual responses will be kept completely confidential. The survey should take less than three minutes to complete. If at any time you no longer wish to complete the survey you may stop without fear of any penalty. Your participation is highly appreciated and will be very beneficial to my senior research.

Please be aware that all answers are confidential. You cannot be identified from your participation in the study. For the purposes of this study, COHABITATION is defined as an arrangement where two people are sexually and/or emotionally intimate, living together on a long term or permanent basis, and not legally married. PARENTAL OR GUARDIAN DIVORCE must be a legal termination of marriage as declared by the given state of residence.

Thank you!!

 

  1. Sex:
    1. Male
    2. Female
  2. Age:
    1. 16 – 23
    2. 24 – 31
    3. 31 +
  3. Marital Status:
    1. Single
    2. Cohabitating
    3. Married
  4. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  5. Have you experienced the divorce of a parent or guardian?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  6. Are you currently or have you ever cohabitated?
    1. Yes
    2. No
  7. Why do you think most people cohabitate?
    1. To test compatibility
    2. Convenience in relationship/dating
    3. As a substitution for marriage
  8. How do you feel about cohabitation for a friend or relative?
    1. Positive
    2. Negative
    3. Depends on circumstance
  9. How do you feel about cohabitation for yourself?
    1. Positive
    2. Negative
    3. Depends on circumstance
  10. Do you think cohabitation is a “safe” option to consider as a substitute or pre- marriage?
    1. Yes
    2. No

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Divorce Experience:

  11. What age did you experience the divorce?
    1. 0 – 6 years
    2. 7 – 10 years
    3. 11 – 18 years
    4. 19+ years
    5. Not Applicable
  12. How would you rate the level of negative impact that you experienced from the divorce?
    1. Little to no negative impact
    2. Moderate negative impact
    3. Severe negative impact
    4. Not Applicable
  13. Do you think the experience of divorce has impacted your perception of cohabitation?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Not Applicable

    ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    Cohabitating Couples:

  14. What is the main reason for your cohabitation?
    1. To test compatibility
    2. Convenience in relationship/dating
    3. As a substitution for marriage
    4. Not Applicable
  15. How many cohabitating partners have you had?
    1. 3 or less
    2. 4 – 6
    3. More than 6
    4. Not Applicable
  16. Would you consider marriage to your partner?
    1. Yes
    2. No
    3. Not Applicable

 


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