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The Specter of Divorce: Views From Working- and Middle-Class Cohabitors


  • Department of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University, 120 Martha Van Rensselaer Hall, Ithaca, NY 14853 (

  • Department of Development Sociology, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853.

Department of Sociology and Substance Abuse Studies, University of Central Oklahoma, 100 N. University Drive, Box 182, Edmond, OK 73034.


Young Americans increasingly express apprehension about their ability to successfully manage intimate relationships. Partially in response, cohabitation has become normative over the past few decades. Little research, however, examines social class distinctions in how emerging adults perceive challenges to sustaining intimate unions. We examine cohabitors' views of divorce and how these color their sentiments regarding marriage. Data are from in-depth interviews with 122 working- and middle-class cohabitors. More than two thirds of respondents mentioned concerns with divorce. Working-class women, in particular, view marriage less favorably than do their male and middle-class counterparts, in part because they see marriage as hard to exit and are reluctant to assume restrictive gender roles. Middle-class cohabitors are more likely to have concrete wedding plans and believe that marriage signifies a greater commitment than does cohabitation. These differences in views of marriage and divorce may help explain the bifurcation of cohabitation outcomes among working- and middle-class cohabitors.