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Keywords:

  • cohabitation;
  • economic well-being;
  • family;
  • marriage;
  • qualitative methods

Cohabitation is now the modal path to marriage in the United States. Drawing on data from 115 in-depth interviews with cohabitors from the working and lower middle classes, this paper explores how economics shape marital decision making. We find that cohabitors typically perceive financial issues as important for marriage, and we delineate several key themes. Whereas some social scientists speculate that cohabitors must think that marriage will change their lives in order to motivate marriage, our findings suggest that cohabitors believe marriage should occur once something has already changed—in this case, their financial status. Our results also imply that political and scientific discourse on financial problems as deterrents to marriage should be broadened beyond a focus on poor unmarried parents.