In the United States today, the percentage of married adults has reached an all time low. Researchers form the University of Central Oklahoma and Cornell University conducted a study, which was published in the December 2011 issue of Family Relations, into the diminishing rate of marriage by interviewing 122 people in cohabitating relationships.
By interviewing these people, the researchers found that 67 percent of these cohabitating couples had fears about the emotional, financial, social and legal consequences of divorce, and the worries of having to deal with the fallout of divorce, made them leery of marriage. The researchers found that middle-class couples had a more favorable view of marriage when compared to working-class people. Middle-class couples also viewed cohabitation as a stepping stone to marriage. Those who were more likely to have doubts about the “trap” of marriage, were lower-income women. These women felt marriage would lead to more domestic responsibilities with, basically, very few benefits, and also felt that it might be difficult to end the marriage should the relationship fail.
Many working-class cohabitating couples had the opinion that marriage was “just a piece of paper”, and would be no different than their current relationship. Another fear of these couples is they were afraid of becoming dependant on their spouse’s income and, thus, be unable to leave a bad marriage.
A Pew Research Center study reported that just over half of adult Americans are married, which is the lowest rate in decades. However, these low rates are due in part to people marrying later and the rise of cohabitation. This study does point out the fear of divorce does weigh heavily on the minds of cohabitating couples, and these couples tend to delay or avoid marriage.
The findings in these studies, researchers say, could help premarital counselors devise lessons that address the specific concerns and also ease the fears of divorce for unmarried couples of all socioeconomic classes.