Marriage and cohabitation

Marriage is the institution where human beings attain a secure environment that enhance proper perpetuation. Human beings marry for various purposes which include procreation, comfort and companionship and for sexual satisfaction which is at times viewed as a basic need. Although there are different types of marriages practiced all over the world for instance polygamy, polyandry polygyny, exogamy and monogamy, the monogamous marriage is most advocated for as it entails the commitment of a man to a woman. Cohabitation entails the living together of mostly a man and a woman without meeting any formal requirements while marriage entails witnesses and is officiated by religious leaders or officers in court. (Smock J and Gupta S, 69).

In marriage as opposed to cohabitation there is the recognition of the intimate relationship between spouses by the government or religious institutions. Civil marriage entails the signing of a contract between spouses. Marriages provide economic, legal and social stability. In most societies married people are respected as they are seen to form a family which is an agency of social control that is crucial in society. Again, through the family the socialization process which is a vital aspect in human beings is attained. Marriages are mostly formalized through wedding ceremonies which can be in religious institutions like churches or by government officials. Marriage ensures that obligations to the participants and their families are created. Most people opt for cohabitation with the thought that the marriage may not work out and the process of nullifying it through divorce is expensive, takes time through the paper work involved and is complicated. (

However, the costs faced when cohabitation relationships do not work are more than those faced when married couples divorce. Marriage has more benefits than cohabitation.

It enriches the relationship between a spouse and the in-laws and in case of the death of a partner they can help in rising of children bore. Inheritance of property that spouses have acquired overtime is easier when spouses are legally married than when they are just cohabiting. There are cases where people could be cohabiting for years, bear children and generate wealth collectively but due to lack of documentation or legal evidence that such had worked together a partner may bear the burden of raising the children alone without the wealth they accumulate collectively if one dies. (Whitehead D. and Popenoe D, 13)

At times marriages identify the legal parent of the child and this creates some form of responsibility for the children by each spouse. It is easier to walk away and fail to support the children when relationships do not work out if people are cohabiting than when they are married. Civil marriages can only be nullified trough divorce which is done in courts. The legal process entails the consent of both spouses and interests of children are catered for. Unlike in cohabitation where such children may suffer when their parent’s relationship turns sour, marriages also ensure that division of property earned together is well divided. Marriages therefore provide greater human capital for children the cohabitation relationships. Marriages call for more commitment as compared to cohabitation which can be terminated by a simple and informal agreement between the spouses. Without the legal consent in the division of property conflicts may arise in the cohabitation relationships.

In marriages a higher earning spouse may have the obligation of supporting a lower earning spouse even after they have separated or divorced. This ensures that the lifestyle a partner is used to is not much affected. Fall from ‘grace to disgrace’ if such were not the case could lead to additional emotional problems for the negatively affected spouse. This is a plus if children are involved. Without a legal contract for the provision of such support in cohabitation relationships such does not occur. Emotional problems may be aggravated by financial crisis that would arise after a break up. Married people tend to perform better in terms of their well being than those who are cohabiting. (Thompson E et al, 228)

Cohabitation relationships do not offer spouses the right to make important decisions upon the illness of their partners. On the contrary married spouses have the right to make decisions on behalf of their partners especially if they are incapacitated to do so. Such decisions could involve health or financial matters where there could be urgency in addressing them. In cohabitation, a partner may be forced to seek the consent of family members or such decisions. Health matters could entail signing of a partner’s operation which could be urgent and before the family members are sought more damage could have occurred. (Wu Z.and Hart R, 429)

Paternity of children bore out of cohabitation may through blood tests and legal action while in the case of a marriage. Such are seen as the offspring’s of the spouses. This creates a secure environment for both the children and their families. In cohabitation children may be emotionally affected when their paternity has to be sought through legal action and their fathers forced to assist them financially since in most cases they only offer such assistance voluntarily. (Thompson E et al, 239)

In most cases spouses first cohabit before they marry. This can be seen as a ‘trial marriage’ and has been increasing over the years. It is however not a guarantee that a successful cohabitation relationships leads to a stable or more fulfilling marriage. There is less commitment in cohabitation relationships and some support it for convenience purposes like reduced costs due to cost sharing and attainment of sexual obligations without “strings attached”. Installing the conditions that one can walk out of relationships if they are not working increases the chances of divorce even in future. Cohabitants want to have the ‘bigger piece of cake’ with few responsibilities. They fear the permanent vows that marriages call for. Such partners may feel that there could be greener pastures out there and their chances of commitment are negatively inclined.

Trust may be highly attained in marriages than in cohabitation relationship. Cohabitants tend to value their independence and cannot be questioned over how they operate in terms of sexual life, expenditure or property ownership. This may work to further distance the spouses creating more chances for break ups and negligent behavior. For marriages, the unity and responsibility of a spouse ‘moves’ or ‘whereabouts’ blends the two into an intimate and responsible relationship. Married spouses take control over their partners activities be they sexual, labor or property ownership. (Manning D and Lichter T, 1006)

With lesser commitment for marriage cohabitants may opt for divorce as the only viable solution to their problems furthermore there is little to lose and since it is a trial marriage it can fail. To some cohabitation acts as a testing ground for marriage. For the married, they are committed to making the marriage work and with the costs attached to divorce they may opt to seek consultations from professionals or would try to understand each other better through dialogue to solve their problems.


Marriages pose a higher chance for marital satisfaction as they are more committed to their spouses, while cohabitants are not fully contented and have conditional relationships.  With lesser commitment and marital satisfaction they may be more prone to unfaithfulness than the married spouses, unfaithfulness would lead to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases especially the dreaded HIV AIDS. Cohabitation especially with multiple partners is very dangerous. Again it creates more insecurity which does not benefit the related parties in whichever way. (Popenoe D and Whitehead B, 60)

Children of cohabitants may experience poorer emotional development than of married parents as the parent’s insecurity may be transferred to the children. Married couples could offer better and safer environment for their children free from abuse which is likely to occur when parents are cohabiting with boyfriends who are not their biological parents. The biological father is less likely to physically, emotionally or sexually abuse his own children compared to a boyfriend. The children could also have their education or academic excellence negatively affected. (Whelan R, 50)

Married partners are financially better off compared to cohabitants. This is more so due to the fact that they can monitor each others moves. Married partners are more likely to spend their money as per the budget they have set together and they can easily caution or curb impulse buying. Again they can discuss their investment plans and given that ‘two heads are better than one’ they are more likely to thrive. (Le Bourdais C. and Juby H, 115)

Married men are more likely to advance in their career and can be more innovative to attain or fulfill their added responsibilities unlike single men. Married women are also more likely to access a higher share of their partners’ earnings that cohabitant women would. Team work between spouses would work to help the spouses meet their career as well as financial goals.

Security offered in marriage poses additional mental as well as physical gains as with the thought that someone will always s be  there for  you ‘for better or for worse’ they are able to face life’s uncertainties with much confidence. Married coupes are also better connected with the wider society from which they can attain support if need be for instance from in laws or religious leaders. The support could be emotional, social or material. Cohabitation on the other hand could be considered as immoral by the society or family members and seeking their assistance may not be sought. This not only affects the relationship with the parents but also creates more emotional problems for cohabitants who may lack ‘a shoulder to lean on when need arises. Marriages also provide visible social linkages. (Waite L and Gallagher M, 30)

Marriage benefits to children and the spouses involved by far outweighs the benefits that cohabitation has. Cohabitation is inadequate in provision of financial and emotional support that partners would be looking for in their spouses. (Manning D and Lichter T, 999). Commitment improves on trust and faithfulness which are very important in the raising of children. Marriage is better than cohabitation as one can better enjoy the purposes of their union with a spouse. Working together would see couples advance and they can easily meet their obligations without constraints. A married person will be more secure and therefore better in terms of health than a cohabitant. Cohabitation is also seen as an arrangement that drains away the religious aspects of family life. Family life should not be an experiment or a disposable institution but should be permanent.


Works cited:

 Thompson E, Hanson T, & McLanahan S. Family structure and child well-being: Economic resources versus parental behaviors. Social Forces, 73, 1994.p 221-242.


Manning D and Lichter T. Parental cohabitation and children’s economic well-being. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 58, 1996. P 998-1010.


Le Bourdais C. and Juby H. The impact of cohabitation on the family life course in contemporaryNorth America: Insights from across the border In Booth A and Crouter C. Just living together: Implications of cohabitation on families, children and social policy .Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.2001. P 107-118.


Smock J and Gupta S. Cohabitation in contemporaryNorth America. In A. Booth and A.C. Crouter Eds. Just living together.Mahwah,NJ: Erlbaum .2002 p. 53-84


Wu Z.and Hart R. The effects of marital and nonmarital union transition on health. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64, 2001. P 420-432.


Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher. The case for marriage: Why married people are happier, healthier, and better off financially .NewYork: Dou-bleday. 2000. P 46.


David Popenoe and Barbara Whitehead. Should we live together? What young adults need to know about cohabitation before marriageNew Brunswick,NJ: The National Marriage Project.1999.p 60.


Whelan R .Broken homes and battered children: A study of the relationship between child abuse and family type.London: Family Education Trust. 1993. p 50.


Anne-Marie Ambert. Cohabitation and marriage. How are they related.2004.Retrieved on 11th January 2008 from


Waite, L. and Gallagher, M., The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially,New York: Doubleday, 2000, p. 46.


Whitehead D. and Popenoe D. Sex without strings, relationships without rings. The State of Our Unions, The Social Health of Marriage in America, The National Marriage Project, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2000, p. 13.


Joseph M. Champlin. Cohabitation before Marriage retrieved on 11th January 2008 from