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Not Crossing the “Extra Line”: How Cohabitors With Children View Their Unions


Department of Sociology, 1812 Chicago Avenue, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60208 (


I use qualitative interview data from a sample of 44 cohabiting couples who have children together to investigate how they view their unions and how the presence of children influences the meanings they attach to them. I find most cohabiting parents begin cohabiting in response to a pregnancy but do not believe they should stay in a relationship because of shared children. They view cohabitation as a practical response to parenthood that allows them to coparent and share expenses yet avoid the greater expectations of commitment, relationship quality, and more traditional and scripted family roles they associate with marriage. Cohabiting parents do not believe they should marry because they have a child together but value the symbolic aspects of marriage.