Cohabiting, Dating, and Perceived Costs of Marriage: A Model of Marriage Entry



This paper investigates the decision to marry among individuals in cohabiting and steady noncohabiting relationships, with emphasis on the effects of cohabitation in the decision-making process. A model is proposed wherein cohabitation influences the perceived costs and benefits of marriage, which influence intentions and expectations to marry, which influence actual marriage entry. The model is tested using data from the first and second waves of the National Survey of Families and Households. Cohabitation status is found to predict perceived costs and benefits of marriage, and also to predict marriage intentions and expectations. Cost perceptions further predict intentions and expectations among both cohabitors and daters, and perceived costs, intentions, and expectations to marry the partner predict actual marriage behavior. Cohabitation appears to significantly change the context in which decisions about marriage are made in romantic relationships and merits a greater place in the literature on dating and courtship.