Smock Article - P1 FLW/FPO P2 FLW/FPO P3 FLW June 3 2000...

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Annu. Rev. Sociol. 2000. 26:1–20 Copyright c 2000 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved C OHABITATION IN THE U NITED S TATES : An Appraisal of Research Themes, Findings, and Implications Pamela J. Smock Department of Sociology and Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48106-1248; e-mail: [email protected] Key Words family, marriage, union formation, children, gender, social change Abstract Cohabitation has risen dramatically in the United States in a very short time. So, too, has the amount of sociological research devoted to the topic. In the span of a bit more than a decade, family sociologists and demographers have produced a large and rich body of research, ranging from documentation of cohabitation to assessment of its various consequences and implications. I first review basic descriptive findings about cohabitation as well as common explanations for its striking increase over recent decades. I next identify the central questions motivating most of the extant research and provide an assessment of past research as a whole. Finally, I speculate about themes that will be central to future research on cohabitation and consider the implications of cohabitation for gender equality in the United States and social science research on families. INTRODUCTION Unmarried heterosexual cohabitation has increased sharply in recent years in the United States. It has in fact become so prevalent that the majority of marriages and remarriages now begin as cohabiting relationships, and most younger men and women cohabit at some point in their lives. It has become quite clear that under- standing and incorporating cohabitation into sociological analyses and thinking is crucial for evaluating family patterns, the life course of individuals, children’s well-being, and social change more broadly. The number of sociological studies on cohabitation has also escalated in a very short time, with most researchers drawn from the closely allied subfields of family sociology and family demography. This article synthesizes and evaluates this relatively new but burgeoning literature. First, I set the context by briefly reviewing basic descriptive findings about cohabitation (i.e., patterns, trends, and differentials)andthenpresentingcommonexplanationsforcohabitation’sdramatic 0360-0572/00/0815-0001$14.00 1
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2 SMOCK rise. Next I identify three analytic questions that have either explicitly or implicitly motivated much of the extant research, and I summarize the findings that bear on these questions. Third, I provide a critical assessment of past research as a whole and identify issues that have emerged as key themes in cohabitation research. Finally, I consider the implications of cohabitation for gender equality in the United States and for social scientific research on families.
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