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J Fam Issues. 2011 Feb 3;32(7):876-905.

He Says, She Says: Gender and Cohabitation.

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Center for WorkLife Law, University of California Hastings College of the Law, 200 McAllister Ave., San Francisco, CA 94102, , , Mobile: (415) 449-1552,


Cohabitation has become the modal path to marriage in the United States. However, little is known about what cohabitation means to young adults today. Drawing on data from 18 focus groups (N=138) and 54 in-depth interviews with young adults, this exploratory study investigates motivations to cohabit, and examines potential gender differences in those motivations and the meanings attached to them. We find that primary motives to cohabit include spending time together, sharing expenses, and evaluating compatibility. Strong gender differences emerge in how respondents discuss these themes and how they characterize the drawbacks of cohabitation, with men more concerned about loss of freedom and women with delays in marriage. Overall, our findings suggest that gendered cultural norms governing intimate relationships extend to cohabiting unions, and point to gender differences in the perceived role of cohabitation in union formation processes.

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