Arland Thornton, University of Michigan
David Arnaudo, Department of Health and Human Services
Bill Marsiglio, University of Florida
Barbara Sugland, Child Trends, Inc.
Linda Waite, University of Chicago
Prepared for NICHD Workshop "Improving Data on Male Fertility and Family Formation" at the Urban Institute, Washington, D.C., January 16-17, 1997.
This paper has been written to provide a broad overview of union formation and dissolution in the United States. Our primary goal in writing the paper is to consider the current state of knowledge concerning the formation and dissolution of unions. We discuss a broad range of things that are currently understood about union formation and dissolution, and, more importantly, consider some of the important things that are currently unknown or very dimly understood. An important element of the paper is to provide recommendations concerning steps that can be taken to enhance further our understanding of these important processes. Because of the breadth of the union formation and dissolution topic, we recognize that our review cannot be exhaustive in covering all dimensions of the topic.
We begin our paper with a discussion of the institution of marriage. We focus on the meaning of marriage and the ways in which the cultural and institutional underpinnings of marriage vary from other union forms such as nonmarital cohabitation. This section also briefly considers the role of the legal system and public policy in union formation and dissolution. The paper then turns to a brief discussion of some of the historical changes which have occurred in union formation and dissolution. We consider trends in both behavior and the norms and values underlying the formation and dissolution and unions. Our next broad area concerns the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution. Here we address such issues as the processes leading to the formation or dissolution of a union. We also consider the factors that might influence the rate of union formation and dissolution. Also discussed are factors that would move people toward different kinds of unions such as marriage, cohabitation, and unions that do not involve coresidence. An important element here is the ways in which childbearing and childrearing are involved in, influence, and are influenced by the processes and decisions of union formation and dissolution.
In the latter part of the paper we turn our attention to future research. We consider some of the important gaps in our knowledge and make recommendations concerning approaches for furthering our understanding. Of particular importance here are the changes which have occurred in union formation and dissolution and the ways these changes influence our data collection system. We discuss ways in which our data system could be enhanced to further our knowledge of union formation and dissolution. While much of our current knowledge is drawn from large-scale quantitative data sets, we explore the potential usefulness of qualitative approaches--both by themselves, and also in combination with quantitative approaches. Again, we acknowledge that the breadth of the topic of union formation and dissolution makes any attempt at a full and comprehensive review beyond the scope of this paper. We end the paper with a brief summary of the main recommendations for additional data and research.
The Meaning of Cohabitation, Marriage and Other Relationships
The Institution of Marriage
The institution of marriage is characterized by a public, legally-binding, long-term commitment by an individual to another individual and to their union. The marriage contract explicitly includes sexual fidelity and mutual support, even during bad times. Marriage as an institution is supported by social norms, by organized religion, and by laws and public policies.
Marriage is by its very nature a public commitment between two adults. Wedding ceremonies mark the passage of the partners from one status and set of expectations to another. The participation of family and friends both alerts them to the occurrence of the transition and mobilizes their support for the new couple. The wedding ceremony revolves around the promises--public and legally binding--of the partners to love, honor, cherish and remain faithful to each other until death. The public commitment brings with it public recognition of the privileged and special relationship between husband and wife. The terms "husband" and "wife" carry with them a recognition of the legal, moral and emotional relationship between the partners.
The language that describes the relationships of married couples to each other and to family tells others how to expect the individual to behave across whole domains of life, from work to going out socially to behavior toward other men and women to the way the individuals handle their finances. The symbols of marriage, including wedding rings and the language used to describe the relationships, provide social recognition for the "coupleness" of husband and wife. These constitute a set of powerful social supports of marriage. This pervasive and implicit social recognition of the special rights and obligations of a husband to his wife and of a wife to her husband encourages the actors to play their roles fully, and in doing so molds men and women into "husbands" and "wives".
Most Americans define themselves as members of a religious denomination and the vast majority say that they believe in God. For these people, religious beliefs and values undergird the marriage contract, at least to some extent. Almost all religions sanctify marriage and promote the establishment and maintenance of family relationships. Organized religions offer institutionalized moral support for love, intimacy, and childbearing within the context of religiously sanctioned marriage (Thornton 1985). They also discourage sexual intimacy and childbearing outside marriage (Aldous 1983).
The social approval that religious communities give to marriage and to the married encourages people to get married in the first place and encourages them to stay married. The disapproval of the members of one's congregation--or the loss of their approval--can loom large for the two-thirds of Americans who are members of a church or synagogue and constitutes a cost of divorce.
Married men and women are expected to be sexually faithful to their partners. Pledging to "keep only onto each other, as long as you both shall live" is part of marriage vows in many religious ceremonies. Virtually all married men and women say, when asked, that they expect to be monogamous and that they expect their spouse to be faithful to them. In fact, so few of the married say that they don't expect to give and receive fidelity that we can say that expectations of sexual faithfulness are a universally-shared cornerstone of marriage (Tabulations from the National Health and Social Life Survey, 1992).
Marriage is--by definition--a long-term contract. Marriage vows include the promise to stay together, no matter what happens, until the union is broken by the death of one of the parties. Of course, this is not what happens to many marriages; according to the best projections of demographers who study marriage something over half and perhaps as many as two-thirds of all recent marriages will end in divorce rather than death (Martin and Bumpass 1989). But this is not the ending that people expect when they marry, and the vast majority of all married men and women think that their marriage will last. Kara Joyner finds that married and cohabiting couples tend to see the stability of their relationships very differently. Among those in relationships that began no more than six years ago, 12% of the married women and 11% of the married men say that their chances of breaking up are about even or higher. For cohabiting women this figure is 28% and for cohabiting men 26% (see Kara Joyner. 1996. Ph.D. dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Chicago).
People who expect to be part of a couple for their entire lives--unless something awful happens--organize their lives differently than people who expect to be single. The marriage contract, because it is long term, encourages husbands and wives to make decisions jointly and to function as part of a team. This expectation of a long-term working relationship between husband and wife allows the partners to develop some skills and to neglect others because they count on their spouse to fill in where they are weak. Thus married couples benefit from specialization and an exchange of "spousal labor." The institution of marriage helps individuals honor this long-term contract by providing social support for the couple as a couple and by imposing social and economic costs on those who dissolve their union.
Marriage assumes sharing of economic and social resources and what we can think of as co-insurance. Spouses act as a sort of small insurance pool against life's uncertainties, reducing their need to protect themselves by themselves from unexpected events.
Married couples benefit--as do cohabiting couples--from economies of scale. Couples living together spend much less per capita on many of the costs of living, especially housing and food. This means that couples can have the same standard of living for much less money than can an adult living alone.
Marriage connects people to other individuals, to other social groups (such as their in-laws), and to other social institutions which are themselves a source of benefits. It provides individuals with a sense of obligation to others, which gives life meaning beyond oneself. It may change the psychological dynamics of the relationship in ways that bring benefits. Some consensus exists that marriage improves women's material well-being and men's emotional well-being, in comparison with being single.
The (Incompletely Institutionalized) Institution of Cohabitation
Cohabitation has some but not all of the characteristics of marriage. Cohabitation does not generally imply a lifetime commitment to stay together; a substantial minority of cohabiting couples disagree on the future of their relationship (Bumpass et al. 1991). Cohabitants seem to bring different, more individualistic values to the union than do those who marry (Clarkberg, Stolzenberg, and Waite, 1995). Goldscheider and Kaufman (1996:89) believe that the shift to cohabitation from marriage signals "lower commitment of women to men and even more so of men to women and to their relationship as an enduring unit." Perhaps as a result, some scholars view cohabitation as an especially poor bargain for women; Jones concludes:
The increasing trend toward consensual partnering in the West, seen by many as an emancipation from rigid concepts of marriage, may represent a new enslavement rather than freedom for women (1994:900).
Cohabitants are much less likely than married couples to pool financial resources, more likely to assume that each partner is responsible for supporting himself or herself financially, more likely to spend free time separately, and less likely to agree on the future of the relationship (Blumstein and Schwartz 1983). This uncertainty makes both investment in the relationship and specialization with this partner much riskier than in marriage, and so reduces them. Whereas marriage connects individuals to other important social institutions, such as organized religion, cohabitation seems to distance them from these institutions (Stolzenberg et al. 1995; Thornton, Axinn, and Hill 1992).
Cohabiting unions are much less stable than marriages. Research using data from the National Survey of Families and Households has shown that 90 percent of cohabiting couples either marry or separate within five years (Bumpass, Sweet and Cherlin, 1991). Evidence from Canada suggests that about half of cohabiting couples separate and half marry (Wu and Balakrishnan, 1995).
The Legal System and Marriage
Marriage is a legally binding contract between two individuals. The status of marriage as a legal contract means that the legal system enforces the rights and obligations between the spouses and oversees the dissolution of the contract in the event of divorce.
Until quite recently, the marriage contract was based on the notion of "status," the rights and obligations inherent in the particular relationship of the individual to others. "Husband," as a legal status historically carried a different set of rights and obligations than the legal status of "wife." By becoming a "husband" or "wife", a person took on a particular social role, which located him or her within a network of relationships. The status or role of husband or wife prescribed behavior based on expectations or social norms. Some of the behavior expected of husbands and wives was delineated in the marriage contract or by the legal system on the basis of the marriage contract and society's moral vision of marriage. (For an excellent discussion of changes in family law as they affect marriage, see Regan, 1996).
This view of marriage was part of a larger package of supports and restrictions. Legal marriages could generally only be dissolved, if at all only by egregious breach of the marriage contract. In some states, consent of both parties, or a lengthy period of legal separation, was required to obtain a divorce. Currently under no-fault divorce, available in all states, no charge of marital misconduct is required. Either spouse may dissolve the marriage if he or she so desires, even if both spouses have lived up to the terms of the marriage contract and regardless of the wishes of the other spouse.
We have moved toward a view of marriage as a contract that reflects an agreement between the individuals involved, an agreement that they are free to structure in any way they wish. This view accepts as valid prenuptial agreements that absolve spouses from any continuing financial obligation for each other in the event of divorce, even if this means a very unequal division of resources.
The legal view of marriage as an arrangement that lasts only as long as it suits both partners undercuts the supports that allow individuals to invest themselves in their marriage. In a world in which at least half of all marriages end in divorce, a world in which both spouses are expected to be financially self-sufficient within a fairly short period after divorce, it becomes risky to put much time, money or energy into one's marriage and rational to invest in oneself or in portable skills and goods. So the structure of incentives have changed in a way that weakens marriage as an institution. This makes any particular marriage more fragile. Married couples are more likely to dissolve their marriage, all else equal, if they live in a state with relatively liberal divorce laws than if they live in a state with relatively restrictive divorce laws (Lillard, Brien and Waite, 1995).
Public Policy and Marriage
In today's world, married people often receive different treatment by the government than single people do. Married individuals face different tax rates than they would if they were not married. In some states, poor married parents are not eligible for programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) that are available to poor single parents. An active policy debate currently rages on the impact of government policies especially eligibility for government transfers and other program that exclude the married. Do eligibility requirements for AFDC, Medicaid, public housing and other programs discourage marriage? No consensus exists.
Although the debate on the impact of government policies on marriage focuses on AFDC and other welfare programs, any program that differentiates between the married and the single could affect behavior. Social Security is an obvious example. Widows receive Social Security payments based on their husband's earnings record, but only if they were legally married. Social Security follows state law in recognizing common-law marriage. So in Illinois, which does not recognize common-law marriage, a woman who lived with a man for thirty years can collect no Social Security on his account if he retires or dies, even if she was financially dependent on him for that entire period. But if a 75-year old woman marries an 80-year old man who dies a year later, she is eligible for his entire Social Security amount as the widow of a covered worker, even though she was not his wife for any of the time he was working (information gathered in extended interviews with the staff at a local Social Security Administration Office).
The federal tax law and parental consent requirements for marriage by teens provide other examples of public policies that may affect the choice of individuals to marry.
Historical Changes in Union Formation and Dissolution
While marriage has historically been and continues to be a central institution in American society, the processes of union formation and dissolution have changed substantially across the past century (Cherlin, 1992; Thornton, 1994). Historically, marriage was an institution entered into by a young man and woman who had experienced a period of courtship, fallen in love, were willing to make a commitment to each other, and had the financial resources to support an independent household. While some people married at relatively young ages, most people married in their twenties, and significant fractions never married. The normative structure of society called for sexual abstinence before marriage, although in actuality, significant numbers had sexual relations before marriage, some brides were pregnant at marriage, and a small number of children were born outside of marriage. Both the formal and informal rules of society called for marriage to be a lifetime relationship, with divorce being relatively uncommon. However, the high levels of mortality in the past produced substantial amounts of marital dissolution.
The past century has brought substantial changes in many dimensions in this system of union formation and dissolution. Among the earliest and most important of these changes were the twin revolutions in divorce and mortality (Cherlin, 1992; Thornton, 1994). At the same time that the dramatic decreases in mortality were increasing the longevity of marriages, the divorce revolution was increasing marital instability. Whereas only a small fraction of marriages contracted in the latter part of the nineteenth century ended in divorce, today demographers project that well over one-half will be terminated by marital discord (Martin and Bumpass, 1989; Bumpass, 1990).
Union formation has also changed dramatically in recent decades. The United States experienced a substantial marriage boom following World War II, with both age at marriage and the number never marrying declining (Cherlin, 1992; Thornton, 1994). This marriage boom helped to fuel the better-known baby boom occurring after World War II. The marriage boom declined during the 1960s and 1970s, with both the pace and extensiveness of marriage quickly returning to the levels of the early twentieth century. Additional changes were occurring in the union formation process in the 1960s and 1970s as premarital sex became much more common, sexual relations were experienced by younger teenagers, and pregnancy and childbearing outside of marriage increased (Ventura et al., 1995). In fact, the increases in nonmarital childbearing have been so dramatic that in recent years approximately one-third of all children are born to unmarried women (Ventura et al., 1995). While this trend in nonmarital childbearing has been fueled in part by rising rates of nonmarital pregnancy, it has also been strengthened by the declines in marriage among premaritally pregnant couples (Ventura et al., 1995).
In recent years union formation has been further modified by the rapid rise in nonmarital cohabitation. In fact, the rise in nonmarital cohabitation has been so rapid in the United States that substantial fractions of all first coresidential unions involve nonmarital cohabitation rather than marriage (Bumpass and Sweet, 1989). In addition, the recent increase in cohabitation has been almost as great as the decline in marriage--with the result being that the total union formation rate from both marriage and cohabitation has been relatively stable across recent decades (Bumpass and Sweet, 1989). While some cohabiting unions are relatively permanent, substantial fractions are of relatively brief duration--with many cohabiting unions being quickly dissolved or transformed into marital unions (Bumpass and Sweet, 1989). One important result of the growth in nonmarital cohabitation is that significant fractions of children born out of wedlock are actually born to coresiding parents. In addition, significant numbers of children of divorced parents are currently living with one of their parents and a cohabiting partner.
Accompanying these behavioral changes in union formation and dissolution have been dramatic shifts in the normative climate surrounding sex, cohabitation, marriage, divorce, and childbearing (Thornton, 1989,1995). Most importantly here has been the dramatic weakening of the normative imperative to marry and to stay married. At the same time, normative proscriptions against premarital sex, nonmarital cohabitation, and out-of-wedlock childbearing have declined dramatically, with large numbers believing that living together before marriage is a good idea. Contraception is widely endorsed among young people today, despite its relatively infrequent or ineffective use among many. These dramatic changes, which have occurred for both men and women, have greatly reduced the control of families and societal institutions over the personal decisions of individual women, men, and couples.
While these dramatic changes in norms and values have permeated almost every corner of society, union formation attitudes vary greatly by age and generation (Bumpass et al., 1991; Michael et al., 1994; Pagnini and Rindfuss, 1993; Thornton, 1989). Compared to older people, the young are much more accepting of premarital sexual relations, unmarried cohabitation, nonmarital childbearing, and the idea of never marrying. These age differences in attitudes and values are also reflected in generational differences within the family--with young people having much more accepting attitudes than their parents. These differences across age and generation are true for both males and females. Furthermore, these generational differences are understood by the actors involved and are undoubtedly the source of significant intergenerational tension and conflict.
Despite the significant changes in union formation and dissolution behavior and values, Americans continue to value marriage and family life (Thornton, 1989). Most young people, including both men and women, expect to marry and believe that having a good marriage and family life is quite or extremely important. Most also view divorce in negative terms.
Among the most important issues facing family scholars and policy makers today is the question of why: what are the factors that have driven these important trends in family behavior and values? Numerous explanations have been advanced, including: the shift from an agricultural to industrial to service economy; the increase in women's employment; the decline in economic opportunities for men; the widespread availability and acceptance of contraception and abortion; the decline in the control of religious institutions; the expansion of education; the rise of the welfare state; and the ethos of individualism. Unfortunately, the empirical evaluation of the various explanations of family change is very difficult. Consequently, we only dimly understand the causal mechanisms underlying these changes, the ways in which these causal forces combine and interact, and the ways in which different dimensions of these union formation and dissolution processes are influenced differently by the various causal forces.
We also do not yet fully understand the implications of many of these trends. As indicated earlier, we have some understanding about how marriage and cohabitation differ, but we do not fully understand the different meanings the two types of unions have for society and those involved. We also do not know to what extent cohabitation is a substitute for marriage or a new form of courtship. Also, important are the factors which lead individual couples today to cohabit, marry, or to live apart. Who is making these decisions--men or women? And, what meaning do the new forms of union relationships have for children--both to children born to both members of the couple involved and to children of only the woman or only the man involved?
Of course, we also do not know what the future holds for union formation and dissolution. Given the magnitude and recency of the changes in union formation and dissolution, it would be surprising if current patterns have been fully institutionalized. Rather, it is more likely that changes will continue, with the trajectory of those changes uncertain. An important element of any research program on union formation and dissolution is continued monitoring of future trends.
It is useful to place union formation and dissolution in the United States in international perspective, although a full examination of cross-cultural differences is beyond the scope of this paper. We begin by noting that the rate of childbearing among teenagers in the United States is higher than the rate for most of the countries of Europe (Westoff et al., 1983; Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). In many cases these differences are substantial, especially when the comparisons are with the countries of Western Europe (Westoff et al., 1983; Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). In addition, the teenage childbearing rate in the United States has been several times higher than the rate in Japan (Westoff et al., 1983; Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). Note, however, that the American percentage of children born to unmarried mothers is similar to that of several Western European countries such as France and the United Kingdom, but lower than in Sweden and Denmark and higher than in Germany, the Netherlands, and Italy (Ventura et al., 1995; Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). The percentage of children born to unmarried mothers is several times lower in Japan than in the United States and Western Europe (Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992; Ventura, 1995).
The United States has historically had and continues to have an anomalous divorce rate. The American divorce rate in recent years has been approximately double the rate for many Western European countries (Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992). Note, however, that changes in divorce rates in Western Europe have generally paralleled those in the United States, although at a lower absolute level (Ahlburg and DeVita, 1992).
Although cross-cultural studies are difficult to operationalize because of differences in concepts, measures, and data, we believe that substantial understanding can be obtained through comparative research. This has proven to be true in the area of adolescent childbearing (Jones et al., 1985, 1986), and we believe similar useful work can be accomplished along other dimensions of union formation and dissolution.
Influences on Union Formation and Dissolution
Given the historical centrality of the institution of marriage, it should not be surprising that decisions about union formation and dissolution are intertwined with, influenced by, and consequential for numerous other dimensions of life, including the economy, employment, schooling, economic and psychological well-being, and religious institutions. Furthermore, marriage is frequently an intergenerational process in that parents are generally influential in decisions about dating, courtship, and union formation. In addition, decisions about union formation and dissolution have important ramifications for the children of the couple involved in the marital transition.
Looking first at parents, we know that many dimensions of the parental family influence the union formation and dissolution experience of their children. Across a range of family issues, including premarital sex, cohabitation, marital timing, and divorce, the values and attitudes of parents influence the attitudes of their children (Thornton, 1992; Axinn and Thornton, 1996). There is also evidence that these attitudes and values of parents influence their children's premarital sexual behavior, experience with cohabitation, and entrance into marriage. The influence of attitudes and values across generations appears to be strongest in families with positive relationships between parents and children (Moore et al., 1986; Weinstein and Thornton, 1989). These intergenerational influences appear to operate for both males and females.
Parental religiosity is also related to the ways in which young people form unions. The religiosity of parents seems to decrease their young adult children having had sexual intercourse and the number of partners (Thornton and Camburn, 1989). Parental religiosity, as measured by both attendance at religious services and the importance of religion in one's life, is also associated with children's higher rates of marriage and lower rates of cohabitation--for both female and male children (Thornton et al., 1992).
We also know that the union formation and dissolution experiences of parents are related to the attitudes and experiences of their children (Axinn and Thornton, 1996; Amato and Booth, 1991; Miller et al., 1987; Lye and Waldron 1993; Moore and Stief, 1991). For example, parental divorce is associated with more positive attitudes toward premarital sex and greater frequency of sexual intercourse among unmarried males and females. Children of divorce also have more accepting attitudes toward divorce, unmarried childbearing, and cohabitation. Parental marital disruption also increases the rate of cohabitation in the second generation. Premarital pregnancy and young age at marriage in the parental generation are also associated with higher rates of union formation, both marriage and cohabitation, among children. Parental divorce is also associated with higher rates of marital instability in the second generation. These intergenerational effects appear to hold for both males and females.
Parental resources also influence children's union formation. Parental economic standing, as measured by education and income, is positively related to parental preferred ages for children to marry and children's actual ages at marriage--for both males and females, although apparently stronger for males than females.
Although we know that the parental generation influences the union formation and dissolution experiences of young people, the causal mechanisms producing these effects are not well understood. While there are reasons to believe that genetic factors are important in these intergenerational effects, the magnitude of these effects are not clear. It is also not clear how these genetic factors interact with social influences. Furthermore, the social mechanisms responsible for the intergenerational correlations have not been specified or demonstrated well. Even less information is available concerning the ways in which mothers, fathers, and children interact in decisions about the children's dating, courtship, cohabitation, marriage, and divorce.
A growing body of research suggests that the attitudes and behavior of young people are related to the behavior of their siblings (Axinn et al., 1994; East and Felice, 1992; Hogan and Kitagawa, 1985; Friede et al., 1986; Haurin and Mott, 1990; East et al., 1993). This association could be the result of many different kinds of causal forces, including siblings influencing each other, siblings being influenced by similar genetic influences, or siblings being influenced by the same family or neighborhood environments. Unfortunately, research on sibling influences is relatively recent, with little known about causal mechanisms or the ways siblings interact to influence each other.
Union formation and dissolution are also intimately interconnected with other dimensions of an individual's life. We know that there is a strong temporal component in that premarital sexual experience--including its occurrence, pace of initiation, frequency, number of partners (as well as attitudes)--is strongly related to age at first dating and age at first going steady--for both males and females (Miller et al.,1986; Thornton, 1990). Young age at first intercourse is also strongly related to frequency and number of partners for both males and females. There are also good reasons to expect that the timing of dating, going steady, and first intercourse would be related to the pace of entry into marriage and cohabitation. Unfortunately, it is not clear whether these strong correlations in the initiation of various steps in the courtship and union formation process are the result of genetic or social forces, and, if social, the ways in which the social forces operate.
A very important element in the union formation process is education. Young people who are performing well in high school and who have ambitious educational aspirations are less involved sexually than are young people with lower school performance and lesser aspirations in high school (Zelnik et al., 1981; Moore and Waite, 1977). School enrollment after high school substantially reduces the rate of entrance into both cohabitation and marriage, although more so for marriage than for cohabitation--for both women and men (Goldscheider and Waite, 1986; Waite and Spitze, 1981; Thornton, et al., 1995). This effect declines over the early part of the life course for women but not for men. School accumulation (years of schooling ) increases the rate of entrance into marriage while decreasing the rate of cohabitation for men, but the results are more ambiguous for women (Goldscheider and Waite, 1986; Teachman et al., 1987; Blossfeld and Huinink, 1991; Hoem, 1986; Thornton et al., 1995). These findings suggest that education is an important sorting device between cohabitation and marriage. While it is possible to hypothesize about the causes for the differential effects of education on marriage and cohabitation, there is little empirical evidence indicating why this effect exists. It is likely that any information explicating this effect would also help us better understand the difference between the meaning and functioning of cohabitation and marriage in the lives of young people today.
In Western societies marriage has historically been viewed as an institution intricately interrelated with economic standing and prospects. The significance of economic considerations in marriage suggests an important effect of earning capacity on the ability to marry. Employment, careers, and earning capacity seem to be particularly important for men, although their importance may be increasing for women as well (Oppenheimer, 1994; Oppenheimer and Lew, 1995; Oppenheimer et al., 1996; Lichter et.al., 1991).
There are important interconnections between individual religiosity and family formation attitudes and experience. High levels of personal religious involvement and commitment are associated with lower levels of acceptance of divorce, cohabitation, premarital sex, unmarried childbearing, not marrying, and remaining childless (Thornton and Camburn, 1989; Sweet and Bumpass, 1990; Lye and Waldron, 1993; Klassen et al., 1989). The religiosity of young adults also reduces premarital sexual intercourse experience (Thornton and Camburn, 1989). Children's religiosity--both attendance and importance--also reduces the cohabitation rate and increases the marriage rate (Thornton et al., 1992). These effects are true for both males and females. Religiosity is also negatively correlated with marital instability. While we know that religiosity is generally correlated with family formation and dissolution, there is little information about the factors producing this effect. Is it integration into a religious community, the authority of religious figures, commitment to historical religious values, or some other dimension that leads to the correlation of religiosity and union formation and dissolution. Interestingly enough, certain union experiences such as cohabitation may cause some people to be less involved with their religious institutions.
We also know that personal attitudes and values are important in union formation and dissolution. Premarital sex attitudes and behavior are positively correlated. Children with positive attitudes toward cohabitation marry at a lower rate and cohabit at a higher rate than others--true for both females and males. At the same time, we know that experience with cohabitation leads to more positive attitudes toward cohabitation (controlling for pre-cohabitation attitudes)--for both males and females (Axinn and Thornton, 1993).
There is also an interesting intertwining of union formation and union dissolution behavior (Lillard et al., 1995; Axinn and Thornton, 1992). Cohabitation is strongly and positively associated with divorce. It is likely that this empirical correlation is the product both of cohabitation being selective of people who have higher risks of divorce and cohabitation itself increasing the risks of divorce. Unfortunately, we still know very little about the precise nature of either the forces selecting people into cohabitation or marriage or the ways in which cohabitation experience might change people's marital stability. Given that the correlation between cohabitation and divorce is substantial, the sorting out of the causal interconnections promises to provide substantial information about the nature and meaning of cohabitation, marriage, and divorce.
Given recent demographic patterns in divorce, remarriage, and out-of-wedlock parenting, an important contemporary issue relevant to union formation among romantic partners is how they negotiate the presence of children. What types of men are more or less likely to make a serious commitment to a woman who has a child(ren) from a previous relationship(s)? What types of processes are associated with the way men and women negotiate their understanding of union formation? How do men's and women's different perceptions of children affect their relative willingness to pursue a relationship with another person who has a child(ren) (either resident or nonresident)? What are the power dynamics of these types of situations? While policymakers have begun to direct their attention to strategies for helping parents make the transition out of marriage to a postdivorce parenting relationship, what, if anything, can be done about couples forming unions where children of one or both partners are brought into a new romantic relationship?
Another area where knowledge is very limited is couple negotiation and decision-making. The vast majority of the research on the formation of marriages and cohabiting unions focuses on the behavior of only one of the partners, usually the woman. Models of marriage and, more recently, of cohabitation, generally follow individuals who have not yet entered a union over a number of years or between certain ages, to see which people form unions and what type they choose. Although these models have given us a detailed view of the characteristics of men and women that increase the chances that they cohabit or marry, they are inherently limited. Union formation always involves two people, who must agree to enter a partnership and what kind to form. One cannot marry without finding an acceptable mate who is also willing to marry--or cohabit. Single sex models--or any research focused on one half of the pair--can tell us little about the ways the couples negotiate the future of the relationship and the terms under which it will continue. Similarly, research on divorce based on the behavior of individuals tells us little about the ways that couples decide to end their marriage. Disruption of either a cohabiting union or a marriage differs from the process of entering a union, however, in that one person acting without the consent of the other cannot begin a union but can end one. So couple negotiations in the process of union formation may be fundamentally different than couple negotiations over the end of a union.
Any understanding of the role of couple decision-making in marriage or cohabitation requires a fundamentally different approach than has been used to date. This might involve intensive interviewing of both partners in dating couples, as only one of a number of possible approaches. We know very little about appropriate research techniques to shed light on these inherently dyadic processes.
A particularly important issue concerning couple negotiations and decisionmaking concerns the reasons that lead men and women to enter into unions, to choose the kinds of unions they do, and to dissolve unions once they are formed. Why are so many unions today fragile? What are the considerations and motivations that lead people to dissolve the unions they form? What are the different roles and concerns of men and women in these decisions?
The increasing frequency of marital dissolution and out-of-wedlock childbearing raises particularly important issues concerning the support and rearing of the children involved. Heavy emphasis is currently being made to foster the continued involvement of the father after divorce and in never-married families.
One emphasis has been the maintenance of financial contributions by the absent parent. According to the Office of Child Support Enforcement, currently the level of child support is near $12 billion per year (Office of Child Support Enforcement, no date). According to a recent Current Population Survey, 54% or 6.2 million women and men with dependent children from an absent spouse had a child support order of which 5.3 million were supposed to receive child support in the survey year (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). Approximately half of those who were supposed to receive child support received full child support, a quarter received partial child support payments, and a quarter received none (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1995). Poor families that have orders receive child support at almost the same rate (though not amount)--69% vs 75%--as non poor families. Poor families have a lower rate of child support orders than non poor families. Reasons for not establishing awards include: Did not pursue an award (34%), unable to locate the other parent (17.5%), did not want child support (17.5%), other parent unable to pay (16.5%), paternity not established (5.7%), and other financial agreement made (5.5%).
Recently significant strides have been made to establish formal paternity for fathers in unwed families. All states are required and most have programs to establish voluntary paternity at the birth of the child or soon afterward. The paternity establishment rate is near 50%. Due to the welfare reform laws which now time-limit welfare, there will be increased emphasis to push the paternity rate to the 90% level (Office of Child Support Enforcement, no date). Results of a survey by Arkansas of poor pregnant women shows that these women indicate that in 75% of the time they want to establish paternity and that in 71% of the time the fathers would cooperate; yet in fact only slightly over 30% of these women did file an affidavit with the in-hospital program (State of Arkansas, Department of Finance and Administration, 1997). Surprisingly, of those women who said they did not want paternity established (25% of the total), only 3% said that they did not know who the father was (State of Arkansas, Department of Finance and Administration, 1997). Also, only slightly over 4% of these women said they were afraid of 'what the father might do'. Other reasons for not wanting paternity establishment include: do not want father involved, he is already giving me money, do not know where he is, he is not involved, don't want to lose benefits, he can't pay, and he might want custody and visitation.
Another significant development has been the proliferation of provisions for visitation and joint custody for non custodial fathers. The Current Population Survey indicates that 43.1% of all non-custodial parents have visitation privileges, 9.7% have joint custody, and 7.2% have both visitation privileges and joint custody. This same survey finds that almost 80% of those with visitation or joint custody pay child support compared with only 55% of those with neither. Nick Zill and Christine Nord in a recent study for the Department of Health and Human Services find an association with payment of child support and visitation; however the cause and effect is difficult to establish since the type of parent who wants to pay also may want to visit. They find, however, based on limited longitudinal SIPP data, that increased visitation or father involvement might be driven by payment of child support as opposed to the other way around. They also document continued contact by fathers in unwed families as well as a trend for greater father involvement in general.
Although approximately one-half of children living apart from their fathers see their fathers very infrequently, this trend may have the potential for being reversed due to continued and increased emphasis on child support enforcement, paternity establishment and provision of visitation and joint custody rights for non custodial mothers and fathers. Recent changes in the welfare laws providing for time limited welfare will put increasing pressure on paternity establishment and child support enforcement which may in turn stimulate greater involvement by non-custodial parents after divorce and separation.
Given the growing importance of the issues of paternity establishment, child support, and custody and visitation, it is important to know more about these processes and how they work. It is also important to know more about how they influence the lives of those involved--not only the children, but the mothers and fathers as well. More information is also needed concerning the way that child support, paternity establishment, and custody and visitation influence interaction patterns among mother-child, father-child, and mother-father dyads.
As union formation and dissolution have evolved in recent years, the data requirements for describing and explaining behavior and trends have become more complex and rigorous. When coresidence, sex, childbearing, and childrearing were all primarily centered around the institution of marriage, it was straightforward to limit the unions of interest to marriage and to focus attention exclusively on entrance into and exit out of marriage. However, as sex, coresidence, pregnancy, childbearing, and childrearing have become increasingly separated from the institution of marriage, limiting scholarly attention only to marital unions leaves much of the story outside of the purview of investigators. In fact, the amount of action in these domains that is occurring outside of marriage has become so large that it is becoming increasingly difficult to justify scholarly studies of union formation and dissolution in the United States that do not extend themselves beyond marriage and divorce.
The partial separation of so many activities from marriage requires that we devote considerable attention to the concept of "union". What do we mean by unions? What are the important dimensions of unions that are of central interest to us? Is it coresidence? Economic intertwining? Sexual intimacy? Childbearing? Childrearing? How do we translate these important substantive concepts into language and questions that elicit the appropriate responses from people participating in our studies? These are central conceptual and methodological issues that require considerable additional thought and clarification.
While we argue that the concept of marriage is no longer sufficient to capture sufficiently the concept of union, we also believe that it continues to be a primary concept in studies of union formation and dissolution. This means that empirical studies need to study the processes leading into marriage and those leading out of marriage. It also means that at a minimum we need to obtain full marital histories in empirical studies, including dates of all marriages, separations, and remarriages.
We also believe that it is important to collect information on cohabiting unions. This is important because these unions involve several of the central dimensions historically associated with marriage, including coresidence, intimacy, and economic interchange. They also frequently involve childbearing and childrearing. In addition, they frequently are part of the process leading up to marriage itself. The growing importance of cohabitation makes it important for studies of union formation and dissolution to ascertain full histories of individual entrance into and exit out of such unions. Furthermore, the growing acceptance of nonmarital cohabitation makes it possible to successfully collect this information--something that has now been accomplished in multiple large-scale studies.
While we accept the premise that the kind of data to be collected in a project necessarily depends upon the goals, structure, and resources of the project, we believe that any survey project designed to study union formation and dissolution must, at a minimum, ascertain from respondents full histories of cohabitation and marriage. This means obtaining dates of entrances into cohabitation and marriage, separations from cohabitation and marriage, and divorces. Furthermore, while we recognize that the number of such unions that some respondents experience sometimes motivates researchers to truncate the number of marriages and cohabitations they ask about, experience tells us that such truncations can sometimes substantially limit our ability to study union formation and dissolution. Therefore, we recommend, wherever possible, that basic studies of union formation and dissolution ascertain complete marriage and cohabitation histories.
We believe that it is particularly important that our basic systems for monitoring changes in union formation and dissolution include information on both marriage and cohabitation. Historically, our major efforts for monitoring trends in union formation and dissolution have focused on marriage and divorce. Our primary data sources for this purpose have historically been the vital registration system, the decennial census, the annual Current Population Surveys, and the occasional marital history supplements to the Current Population Survey. We understand that the Survey of Income and Program Participation also collects marital history information from its participants. However, while these data sources have provided solid information about marriage, separation, and divorce, they collect limited cohabitation information and the cohabitation data they do collect do not include histories of entrance into and exit out of cohabitation. Because of this, they are not fully sufficient as monitors of levels and trends of union formation and dissolution. It is our recommendation that the federal system be expanded to include data collections permitting this broader monitoring of union formation and dissolution.
Additional studies have shown themselves to be valuable sources of information concerning union formation and dissolution. These include both studies that involve only one interview with the respondents and others that have followed the same respondents over a period of time. Many of these studies, particularly those that include panel components, have been especially important for understanding the determinants of union formation and dissolution. Among the studies that have been particularly valuable for this purpose are the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, the National Longitudinal Study of the High School Class of 1972, High School and Beyond, National Study of Families and Households, the National Survey of Family Growth, National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, and the Intergenerational Panel Study of Parents and Children. In fact, much of our knowledge concerning the determinants of union formation and dissolution comes from studies such as these.
Our purpose here is not to review the union formation and dissolution information collected in these data sources, since that is beyond the scope of this paper. Instead, our purpose is to argue that for these studies to be maximally useful for examination of union formation and dissolution that they need to assemble full marriage and cohabitation histories from their participants. These can be assembled retrospectively in one interview with a respondent. Or, more optimally, they can be assembled by splicing together short inter-survey cohabitation and marriage histories obtained in multiple waves of panel studies. This information about union formation and dissolution permits the examination of the causes and consequences of such behavior. Further details concerning the ways in which cohabitation and marriage histories may be collected in surveys are provided by Thornton and Young-DeMarco (1996).
There may also be studies for which marriage and cohabitation data may be insufficient as indicators of union formation and dissolution. For example, in studies of sex, pregnancy, and/or childbearing the limitation of unions to marriage or cohabitation may leave too many important unions outside the purview of the study. In such cases it may be important to define unions on the basis of sexual intimacy or some other criteria.
Studies of union formation that are serious about investigating the processes leading up to marriage, cohabitation, or childbearing may also need to recognize additional kinds of relationships, such as dating, going steady, and engagement. One of the difficult issues in such studies is the identification of the important concepts to be used in the investigation and then being certain that these concepts have similar meanings across different subgroups of the population to be studied. Additional research in this area is needed.
Earlier we mentioned several important data sets that have provided substantial information valuable for understanding union formation and dissolution in the United States (and there are others). Many of these data sets have the potential to support additional analyses to provide insights into some of our unanswered questions. We strongly encourage continued support for research utilizing these existing data sets.
There are several existing and planned studies that will be collecting information that is relevant to union formation and dissolution. We recommend that efforts be made to explore the possibilities of expanding these data sets in ways that will make them more valuable for understanding union formation and dissolution. This could further expand our potential for addressing important remaining questions.
As we have indicated in previous sections of this paper, much is known about the union formation and dissolution attitudes and behavior of men. This is true because many of the data sets used for studying union formation and dissolution include information about both women and men and their unions, thereby permitting parallel analyses of the attitudes and behavior of men and women. These data sets also permit examination of the ways in which gender intersects with union formation and dissolution. Unfortunately, our ability to understand union formation and dissolution from the male perspective is sometimes limited by data shortcomings. This can occur because, in some cases, data sets are limited to women, thereby, making it impossible to study men using those data resources. In other cases, data about men can be limited because of the difficulties of locating men and persuading them to participate in data collection projects. Since the lack of appropriate data about men and the ways in which they view and experience union formation and dissolution can restrict our knowledge of these issues, we recommend that considerable effort be made to include both men and women in our data collections and analyses. As we argued earlier, it is also often useful to include men and women who are partners in the same data collection in order to examine couple dynamics.
We also believe that cohabitation and marriage bring together two individuals with their own childbearing and union formation histories. The histories of both partners are very likely to influence the patterns of partner interaction, childbearing and childrearing, and marital stability. These considerations suggest the need for collecting family formation and dissolution information about both partners in a relationship.
While currently existing and planned data sets are valuable for studying union formation and dissolution, we believe that each of them are limited in ways that restrict their usefulness for answering many of the important substantive questions we have about the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution patterns. Since most of these data sets were designed for other purposes, they are missing some of the key elements for definitive studies of union formation and dissolution. Consequently, we believe that serious consideration be given to designing and fielding a new study designed explicitly for the purpose of understanding union formation and dissolution.
Although the provision of a detailed plan for such a study of union formation and dissolution is beyond the scope of this paper, we will briefly sketch several key components that we believe should be included. This study should be designed so that it can follow the union formation process as it unfolds over time. This means that the study must begin early enough in the life courses of young people that it can ascertain baseline measures of the important hypothesized determinants of union formation before those determinants are substantially influenced by the union formation processes in question. This also implies a longitudinal design that follows young people across time as they enter and exit different kinds of relationships and unions.
We also suggest that such a study be designed to include a broad range of determinants and processes of union formation and dissolution. Included among the determinants of union formation should be the genetic, other institutional factors such as school and employment, religion and values, and individual goals, expectations, and abilities. The value of the study would be particularly enhanced if it were designed to evaluate the processes and mechanisms by which many of the currently known determinants of union formation and dissolution operate. The study would also be enhanced if it could build in methodologies to study decisionmaking processes.
It would be particularly valuable if a new study could be placed in a broad intergenerational framework where it considered explicitly the influence of fathers and mothers on the union experience of young adults. The inclusion of siblings in the study would also provide significant opportunities to study family influences operating through both biological and social routes. If possible, it would be useful to include peers in the design.
A new study of union formation and dissolution should include both males and females and should specifically address the gendered nature of relationships. We know that marriage has different meanings for men and women as well as different implications for the two genders. These gender differences, along with their meaning and implication should be included explicitly in such a study.
We also believe that a new study of union formation and dissolution should contain a qualitative component to evaluate the meaning of union formation and dissolution in people's lives. What do cohabitation, marriage, and divorce mean? What are the motivations to marry, cohabit, or divorce? What are the bargains made in marriage and cohabitation? What bonds partners together? In what ways are the meanings of marriage and cohabitation linked to fatherhood and motherhood? Exploration of subgroup and cultural differences would be particularly important here. The potential of the study would also be enhanced by the use of an integrated multi-method design that allows both qualitative and quantitative research within the same theoretical and empirical project
We believe that qualitative studies can be valuable resources in increasing our understanding of union formation and dissolution. There are numerous qualitative/ethnographic studies that explore the social and cultural context of interpersonal relationships and union formation/dissolution. However, most of this work does not explicitly examine union formation/dissolution per se. Rather, these studies explore other factors that may have a significant effect on the formation and stability of unions, such as early childbearing, crime, and social disengagement. The focus of more recent qualitative work has been on adolescent childbearing and young adult fatherhood, and tends to examine factors that contribute to the formation of less stable unions or unions that do not involve coresidence. There is relatively little qualitative work on the formation of more stable unions and the factors that serve to maintain such unions over time. Nonetheless, existing work offers insights into interpersonal relationships in young and mature adult life. In particular, findings suggest that notions about gender roles, sexual identity and ideology, cultural scripts regarding male/female relations, peer groups/family support networks and contextual factors (e.g., economic opportunities), significantly influence both the initiation of unions, the type of unions that are formed, and the stability of unions over time.
For instance, it is presumed that individuals come to the interpersonal context with a predetermined set of codes and notions about sex appropriate roles and expectations. Although many aspects of relationships have become more egalitarian, specific sex roles and ideologies (i.e., masculine vs. feminine behaviors) still exert a strong force. Males, more frequently than females, are perceived as most appropriate to initiate an interpersonal exchange, from a simple request for a date, to a proposal of marriage, although the process of courtship/dating may be more egalitarian now than in the past (Orbuch, Veroff and Holmberg, 1993). In addition, females who initiate relationships or make advances to males still tend to be viewed as aggressive or "too loose" or "fast" (Sugland, Wilder, and Chandra, 1996).
Another example is the masculine role of "breadwinner/good provider". Qualitative work shows that men and women (and even extended kin) often assess the worth of the male as potential spouse or long-term partner in terms of the man's ability to meet the future needs of his mate and family. Less stable or transitory unions tend to form when the female (and extended family networks) sees the male as "not having much to offer" and the male feels unable to uphold his responsibility as provider (Stack, 1974; Anderson, 1989; Sullivan, 1993). Marital instability, particularly among adolescents, have been attributed in part to the husband's inability to support a family financially (Furstenberg, 1976). Furthermore, it has been suggested that increasing the formation of more stable unions would require, in part, increasing males' capacity to bring more to the "table" (e.g., material and emotional resources) (Furstenberg, 1993). Men's perceptions of their ability to assume or maintain the "mainstream" normative role of provider has also been suggested as an underlying dynamic for husband's and father's estrangement from their families and children, although the desire to be involved may be strong (Sullivan, 1993).
Qualitative studies also suggest that males with few strong role models for male behavior may view more stereotypical male behavior (e.g., need for control, sexual prowess) as appropriate male behavior and shy away from more feminine behaviors like parenting and taking responsibility for parenting if childbearing occurs. In fact, being sexually involved with multiple women simultaneously and fathering children by different women is sometimes viewed as a sign of masculinity (Anderson, 1989). Work by Anderson (1989) as well as Sugland and colleagues (1996) indicates that young males shy away from more committed relationships with females and perceive such unions as "entrapment", "tieing them down" or "limiting their freedom".
Finally, an inability for males and females to trust one another may contribute to the lack of stable union formation among certain population subgroups. Studies describe young men's need to be "running the game" to maintain the upper hand in a relationship (Gilmore, DeLamater, and Wagstaff, 1995), and the need for having "someone on the side" for fear of being hurt or used by their partner (Sugland, et al. 1996).
While qualitative work has provided many insights into intimate relationships, much of what we know about unions (whether marital or cohabiting) comes from large, demographic surveys. In addition, while there is an increasingly greater understanding of male sexual and contraceptive behavior, many of our assumptions about fatherhood and male sexual and fertility behavior are based on models previously used for females, or come from answers provided by female respondents who serve as proxies for the male members of the household. Indeed, one important challenge of learning about union formation/dissolution, and fatherhood in general, is knowing where to start: 1) what issues are most critical for men versus women regarding union formation/relationships? 2) What questions/methodologies are best for gathering reliable and valid information about union formation/dissolution from men versus women? Qualitative research can be useful for charting new territory in this field and can offer more in depth information from men about union formation and dissolution than is currently available from quantitative studies.
For instance, the majority of existing research on union formation/dissolution focuses primarily on marriage and divorce, and more recently cohabitation. However, the number and types of relationships that can and do exist between two individuals is much broader and more fluid than simply marriage and even cohabitation. Focus groups conducted among adolescents regarding pregnancy and sexuality indicate a range of different types of relationships, from the more traditional "boyfriend/girlfriend" with sexual monogamy, to unions described as "associates," where sexual intercourse is the common denominator that binds the two individuals (Anderson, 1989; Sugland, Wilder and Chandra, 1996). Thus, studies which solely address unions formed by marriage or co-residence fail to address a broader context of interpersonal relationships. Such relationships have important implications for fatherhood and the well-being of children born into those unions. Through qualitative research, one could document how males (and females) define a "union" as well as the various types/range of unions that males (females) tend to form, how types of unions differ, which types are most acceptable to men (versus women), what social and cultural meaning is attributed to different unions, the specific purpose for forming certain types of unions (e.g., physical versus emotional satisfaction) and what kind of satisfaction (emotional or otherwise) men (and women) derive from certain unions. One could also explore under which types of unions childbearing is acceptable/unacceptable, appropriate/inappropriate, and whether there are unique differences across race/ethnicity or socioeconomic subgroups and the life course for all of the above.
Information about union formation from a dyadic perspective is also needed and could also be obtained through qualitative work. All unions involve a series of interpersonal exchanges that can include sexual negotiation (even coercion); normative and cultural scripts specific for various unions; partner characteristics; and decision-making strategies and styles. Understanding the interpersonal exchanges that lead to various types of unions or non-unions and the decision making process involved to establish and maintain specific unions would be important. Ethnographic work could examine dating and courtship, and identify under what conditions unions move from casual encounters to more stable and committed relationships such as marriage. What factors influence the likelihood of forming more stable and committed unions, such as marriage or cohabitation? For instance, to what extent do contextual factors (e.g., economic and employment opportunities, racial discrimination) directly influence men's desires for and ability to form and preserve more stable unions with women? Answers to such questions may be critical for understanding racial differences in marriage rates and fertility. Qualitative methodologies could include case studies and story telling with couples in more committed relationships (Orbuch, Veroff and Holmberg, 1993), as well as personal interviews over time with young males and their partners (Furstenberg's Baltimore study), small group discussions such as focus groups (Sugland et al, 1996), and ethnographic studies (Sullivan, 1993; Anderson, 1989).
In addition, qualitative work can provide insight into norms among men regarding the formation and dissolution of relationships and the link to fatherhood. For instance, ethnographic studies demonstrate the importance of cultural and normative views about manhood, fatherhood, and gender roles/norms, and the extent to which such norms influence the types of unions and non-unions that are formed. However, the process through which norms and behaviors regarding sexual identity and intimate relationships are socially modeled and sanctioned for males and by whom (e.g., father, uncles, older brothers, etc.) is less frequently studied. Information on cultural differences in the process of social modeling is also limited. At what period in the life course do males take on norms about gender roles and relationships and parenting? What characteristics define manhood (e.g., stable employment, sexual prowess); to what extent do men value certain types of characteristics over others; and how are unions/non-unions influenced by views of manhood? To what extent do contextual factors such as economic opportunity, etc., influence cultural differences in views about manhood and union formation?
Finally, understanding subgroup differences (e.g., racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, age) in the definition, meaning, and process of union formation can be explored through qualitative studies as well. One could also explore policy and program strategies for strengthening unions and increasing the likelihood of stable union formation, and whether certain types of policies and strategies would be acceptable and potentially successful across different population subgroups.
We begin our summary of recommendations by noting that union formation and dissolution are central elements in the well-being of men, women, and children. While we know a considerable amount about union formation and dissolution, there is much that remains to be learned. We believe that high priority should be given to filling the gaps in our information and knowledge. This will require enlarging and expanding the knowledge that we can procure from currently available data resources. It will also require a sophisticated expansion of the data that we have available for studying union formation and dissolution.
Fulfilling our current data and research needs will require a multi-faceted approach containing many elements. At several points in this paper we have discussed specific limitations in our information and knowledge base for understanding union formation and dissolution and made recommendations for ways to fill those gaps in data and research. In the following paragraphs we provide a summary of the specific component pieces that should be considered as part of a comprehensive program to provide the knowledge and information needed to understand these important processes.
1. Conduct research on the historical trends in union formation and dissolution, with particular emphasis on explicating the explanations and meanings of those changes.
2. Conduct research on the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution. Of particular importance are the causal processes and mechanisms that lead people into unions,
influence them to form different types of unions, and result in the dissolution of their unions. Among the causal factors where additional research is needed are: the legal system and public policy; parents; siblings; religion; values and attitudes; physiological and genetic factors; education; and the work place.
3. Study the ways in which individuals and couples make decisions about the formation and dissolution of unions. How do individuals negotiate with potential and current partners? What are the processes leading up to union formation and dissolution?
4. Examine the intersections of childbearing and childrearing with union formation and dissolution. Of particular interest here are the ways in which parents living apart from each other, either because of divorce or non-marital childbearing, handle such things as child support, child discipline, custody, and visitation. Also, of importance are the ways in which children may be influenced by and influence the union formation and dissolution experiences of their parents.
5. Conduct both substantive and methodological research concerning the meanings of different kinds of unions today, including marriage, cohabitation, and non-coresidential unions. What do people expect from different kinds of unions and what expectations and preferences motivate their choices?
6. Increase the number of data collections and analyses in which both men and women are included. Also, where necessary, expand the quality of data collected from men. More and better data about men will permit examination of the behavior and attitudes of men and how union formation and dissolution processes are different for men and women.
7. Expand and maintain data collection systems for monitoring future trends in union formation and dissolution. This data collection system should include information that permits monitoring attitudes, values, and behavior.
8. Expand and supplement current data collection efforts to include more information useful for studying the causes and consequences of union formation and dissolution.
9. Plan and field a new study that is designed explicitly to examine union formation and dissolution. Such a study should be designed explicitly to study causes and consequences, negotiation and decisionmaking, and the processes leading up to the formation and dissolution of unions.
10. Conduct additional data collection and analysis using qualitative approaches. Expand the utilization of multi-method approaches in studying union formation and dissolution.
11. Ensure that all data collections focusing on union formation and dissolution be designed to include information about a wide range of union types. All union formation and dissolution studies should obtain full marital and cohabitation histories. For some studies it will be necessary to obtain extensive information about additional types of unions as well.
12. Conduct cross-cultural research to investigate the reasons underlying the important differences among countries in union formation and dissolution.
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