Meta-Analysis of Religion’s Role in Cohabitation Trends
For millennia the Judeo-Christian teachings were unquestioningly followed by the faithful, however in the last century many societal and cultural shifts in secular society have affected these teachings. Some such changes include the more egalitarian distribution of household labor among men and women based on the women’s movement of the 1970s and it is explained away by stating that God created man and woman equal in his own likeness. New Bible translations with gender-neutral language render key masculine Scriptures meaningless. Fire-and-brimstone sermons have been replaced, and few parishioners truly believe in the existence of a place called “Hell” which defeats the purpose of rewarding the faithful with a heavenly paradise. Women are allowed to pastor in some denominations as if they were Biblically given charge of the people. Contraception is not seen as a method to hinder the completion of God’s will, but as a necessity to live out one’s own life. An attitude of individualism and materialism grips all congregations, whatever is socially acceptable with in secular society is sneaking its way into the pews.
Just how long is it until cohabitation is generally accepted by Christians, or is that moment already past? Cohabitation has become increasingly popular among singles and divorcees, and how believers react and accept, or reject, it affects the future commonality of the phenomenon as well as the future direction of which the Church will go. The social acceptability of cohabitation affects how the doctrines, teachings, and practices will change. Understanding the directionality that cohabitation will take with Christians could alter the rate of growth and demographics. It should be of particular interest to church leaders.
Cohabitation occurs among unmarried and heterosexual couples. The most dramatic rise in cohabitation rates occurred during the 1980s and 1990s so that the 1994 rate was seven times the 1970 rate (Cohan and Kleinbaum, 2002; Smock, 2000). One-half of young adult men and women have a high probability to cohabitate at some pint in their lives so as many as one-half of marriages are preceded by cohabitation (Brown, 2000; Smock, 2000; Stolzenberg, Blair-Loy, and Waite, 1995). A third of all cohabiting relationships end in the first five years (Smock, 2000). Cohabitation arose in frequency in the 1960safter the advent of no-fault divorce, education and career paths take preference over family formation and childbearing which delays marriage (Smock, 2000; Thornton, 1985). The legitimatization of contraception, divorce, and premarital relations were all part of the cultural shifts that helped to usher in the social acceptability of cohabitation as a period of “flexibility and experimentation” (Thornton and Young-DeMarco, 2001; Brines and Joiner, 1999).
If cohabitation were training for marriages, those marriages preceded by cohabitation should be of a lower probability of dissolution. Popular opinion boasts that cohabitation in a natural stage between courtship and marriage to find the most compatible marriage partner (DeMaris and Vaninadha Rao, 1992). However only one-third of cohabiters are married within three years and the informal unions tend to be unstable (Booth and Johnson, 1988; Manning and Smock, 2002). One of the top predictors of marital separation and divorce is cohabitation. As cohabitation is historically untraditional it may attract individuals who are less compatible with the institution of marriage (DeMaris and Vaninadha Rao, 1992), and “lowers the threshold” for ending a relationship (Cohan and Kleinbaum, 2002, p181; Teachman, 2003). Cohabiters are more acceptable of and positively correlated with divorce (Axinn and Barber, 1997). Additionally the longer an individual cohabitates the less inclined one is to marriage and childbearing (Axinn and Barber, 1997). On the other hand, there are some benefits to the rise in cohabitation. As the age of marriage increases, fertility decreases, and divorce rates have stabilized, cohabitation has helped to offset some of these changes (Axinn and Barber, 1997). The age of formal first unions has risen, but if cohabitation is reframed as a nonmarital first union, then there is little increase in the age of first unions (Bumpass, Sweet, and Cherlin, 1991). The marriage decline is seen as offset by cohabitation of those how never marry and those who would otherwise remarry (Brown, 2000).
Individuals’ attitudes and behaviors are highly influenced by the groups they participate in and are affiliated (Cochran and Beeghley, 1991; Lehrer, 2004). Decisions are framed in a secular or religious context and this affects an individual’s preferences, and enables one to label a choice as positive or negative (Chaves and Montgomery, 1996; Curtis and Ellison, 2002). If one is religiously inclined then decisions are made based on what will bring positive rewards and negative punishments. Participation and adherence to the teachings of these groups are voluntarily followed, and they provide social networks (Brines and Joiner, 1999). Humans are social beings so the reactions and opinions of others socially influence one’s decision-making processes (Lehrer, 2004, Ellison, 1995). Religion and the family are positively related providing the family with social support, teachings that revolve around the goodness and sanctity of marriage relations, counseling, Bible study, and retreats; friends are likely to be religious and married as well (Pearce and Axinn, 1998). However, religion overall may be losing its moral authority over the family life.
Religious institutions condemn premarital intimacy, which is highly concurrent with cohabitation (Cochran and Beeghley, 1991; Teachman, 2003). There are teachings against premarital and post-divorce sexual intimacy as the holy books and doctrines show that sexual relations are pure and good within the banns of marriage (Call and Heaton, 1997; Philippians 4:8). Due to religious sanctions, the more intolerant a church is of a behavior, the less likely members are to engage in it (Cochran and Beeghley, 1991). These Judeo-Christian traditions believe and restrict sexual intimacy to married heterosexual couples (Cochran and Beeghley, 1991). Christians believe that as man and woman are created in the image and likeness of God, who is love; their joining in marriage is seen as very good in the eyes of God (CCC 1603-1604). Sexual intimacy leads to the unity of one flesh and a personal unity that “demands indissolubility” (CCC 1643-1644). Not only is sexual intimacy good with in the marriage, but that expression of conjugal lover requires that the marriage banns never break, therefore, if sexual intimacy occurs outside of marriage numerous sins have been committed. The word used to address pre- and extra-marital sexual relations is “lust” and in Greek, epithumos, with the “prefix epi meaning to add onto” the normal human sexual drive (Anderson, 2001). Adding onto a normal, God-give drive is morally disordering it so that the actions are sought for in and of itself, and not done for the good of society and the marriage (CCC 2351, 2353). Thus, it is strictly against God to have nonmarital sexual relations because the Scriptures states that the body is not for the immoral sexual intimacy, but for the Lord, and is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1Cor 6:13, 18-19). The price of this sin is death (1 Cor 7:8). Cohabitation is an invitation to the temptation to commit nonmarital sexual relations. As marriage has lost importance in society more emphasis is put onto freedom and different lifestyles such as cohabitation and inappropriate sexual relations outside of marriage (Thornton and Young-DeMarco, 2001). Church teachings question the ability of calling cohabitation a “free union”, as there is no commitment and a display of distrust that does not promote fidelity (CCC 2390-2391).
Macro level changes are occurring in the family and other institutions due in part to industrialization, economic growth, and technological advances. Religious institutions are losing their power as it is removed from other institutions such as school, and faith is more personal and individualized (Heaton and Pratt, 1990; Heaton and Cornwall, 1989; Thornton, 1985). Religious affiliation has a “modestly positive” impact on marriage and family life (Bahr and Chadwick, 1985 p 410). Religious attendance and involvement is of more importance than affiliation because few differences exist across denominations and affiliation maybe a more traditional choice and not reflect a lifestyle (Thornton and Camburn, 1989; Heaton and Pratt, 1990; Call and Heaton, 1997). As individualistic trends in religion increase, the institution (church, temple, and synagogue) is no longer seen as a moral instructor (Becker and Hofmeister, 2001; Cochran and Beeghley, 1991).
Many changes have occurred in mainstream society in the last century, some of them very radical in the eyes of religious institutions’ core beliefs. These religious institutions have also changed, from the language and manners in which they celebrate their traditions and rituals to how they react to changes in secular society. Depending on the changes in society, are the religious like unchanging, unmoving to the winds of change, or do they flex and bend? Religion has been flexible to some extent, no longer requiring women to cover their heads inside the sanctuaries, and they have also remained adamant about such issues as the respect life movement. However, because so many changes in the macro level that influence attitudes about what the individual deserves and by right, should have, religious attitudes are overridden so the prevalence of cohabitation among the religious is nearly the same as secular society.
Findings and Analysis
In Figure 1 (Appendix 1) 94.4 women out of 715 self-reported to be cohabiting at the time of questioning. They reported on a number of variables, some of which included their own perceived religiosity and that of their male partner. Only 15 of the women (2.1%) of the women reported being religious, and even fewer men (1.9%). This disparity of religiosity may be due in part to the fact that not many cohabiting couples are religious to begin with, or because religious attendance and participation drops when individuals participate in activities that the religious institution frowns upon (Thornton and Camburn, 1989). Within cohabiting populations, there is decreased attendance in religious activities as the social group no longer approves of the couples’ behavior, and therefore the religiosity of the couples and the depth of their religiosity continue to decrease over time.
Attitudes toward premarital sexual relations are supposed to be reflective of one’s belief system because of one’s increased involvement within the religious institution, friends and other social contacts to reinforce the attitudes, and attitudes are best displayed in outward behavior (Thornton and Camburn, 1989; Chaves and Montgomery, 1996; Ellison, 1995; Cochran and Beeghley, 1991). However, looking at the relationship between the expressed attitudes and the passage of time, it can be seen that sexual attitudes no longer follow the strict guidelines and teachings of a faith, but more closely to that of secular society (Figure 2, Appendix 1). A slight decrease of 5% exists in the attitude in sexual permissiveness between 1982 and 1993 among Protestant Americans; however such a decrease is insignificant in relation to the differences between the percentage of permissiveness, 65.6%, and the percentage of premarital sexual relations being always wrong, 34.4% (Petersen and Donnenwerth, 1997). Secular society could be promoting these attitudes within the education system and through the media to such an extent that weekly attendances of religious activities are not nearly often enough to combat the infiltration of individualism and materialism. Secondly, the expression of these attitudes change over time, not only across generations, but within generations as religious attitudes become stronger as individuals mature and raise families of their own.
The importance of noting whether the data was collected among cohabiters whether the religion is an affiliation, or is of personal importance becomes clear when the individuals report that they are religious, but no evidence is given to what extent (Thornton and Camburn, 1989). The two largest factors in Table 1 (Appendix 1) is that out of the total population of singles, married couples, and cohabiting couples sampled, 541 Protestants and 303 Roman Catholics were reported as cohabiters, which is surprising due to the strict morals of the two denominations toward premarital relations and the sin of “living together.” Cohabiters only comprise a little more than one-third of the sample, but they have large percentages for Protestants (32.4%), Catholics (40%), and the un-affiliated (40%). If the data does not apply to those whose religiosity is due to tradition, but to those cohabiters who are actively involved in their congregations, that is a surprising amount because it goes directly against the tested and proven theories that religious behavior and attendance greatly influence one’s own behavior. When this data is combined with that of Figure 2, one can see just how much more individualized religion has become creating attitudes of accepting what one likes about the religion and discarding or ignoring the rest of the moral and spiritual restrictions. Furthermore, issues of causality and selectivity arise. The lessening of religious proscriptions could be influencing these behaviors in all parishioners, or only in a select few who were never strongly adhering to the teachings originally. Cohabiters may be selecting these religious affiliations for other reasons not examined within the context of previous studies, or the social acceptability of secular behaviors could be loosening the grip that religious institutions have over proscribing behavior.
Religious institutions have been morphing at an increasing rate bending to the secular attitudes and demands. Marriage and family life have changed accordingly, as well has the Church’s way of doing things, such as changing to the common vernacular and not performing services just for God, but for the people, too. All these changes occurred in the 1960s, just as family attitudes were changing to accommodate the increase in women in the labor force, and young adults were beginning to experiment with different living arrangements. As attitudes shifted from working and caring for others, religion became less of an adherence to an Authority and more for the benefit of the individual’s needs, wants, and desires. Religion, never meant to meet the needs of the people, but that of God, has fallen out of favor among those who seek their own needs and wants in material possessions and more personable lifestyles.
Numerous issues exist in the current research concerning the relationship between faith and current family formation trends. Namely, from what previous work does exist it only looks at religious affiliation, not involvement and at attitudes pertaining to premarital sexual relations. Little examination has occurred concerning the concurrency of sexual intimacy and cohabitation. National surveys oftentimes fail to give cohabitation its own designation and consolidate it in with “non family living” which includes such living arrangements as boarders and dormitories. Additionally, little is researched about the role religion has in the followers decision-making processes other than the positive or negative consequences that belie a decision on religious grounds.
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