Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Sharon Sassler & Amanda Jayne Miller's "Cohabitation Nation"

Sharon Sassler is Professor of Policy Analysis and Management at Cornell University. Amanda Jayne Miller is Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Indianapolis.

They applied the “Page 99 Test” to their new book, Cohabitation Nation: Gender, Class, and the Remaking of Relationships, and reported the following:
From 2003 to 2006 we set out to learn more about an increasingly popular trend among today’s young adults – cohabitation. We interviewed 31 middle class, college educated couples (most of whom worked in professions like architecture, education, business, and health care) and 30 couples we labeled “service class,” who mostly worked in fields like data entry, telemarketing, retail, and food service, and whose education had mostly stopped either a high school degree or some college classes. In the past, these less educated men might have been labeled “working class,” but few worked in blue collar professions. We gathered the stories of their relationships, from when and how they started dating, what precipitated their decision to move in together, to how they shared responsibilities for domestic chores, family planning, and discussions about their futures.

Page 99 of our book is from the chapter, “Family Planning or Failing to Plan?” In it, individuals discuss the prerequisites they believe should be met before they have a child together. While nearly half of our service couples (14) already have a child, often from one partner’s prior relationships, few of our middle class couples are parents. As we open the book to its middle, we read about what the middle class believes should be in place before becoming parents. In general, this meant financial stability, but this was, for them, more than just being able to feed their child an adequate diet.
David, a 30 year old retirement planner, elaborated what financial stability meant to him. “I guess that means to have a certain balance in your bank account, a certain cash flow every month, knowing that you don’t have to rent, you can buy a house, that’s what financially stable means to me.” In light of parenting, he explained that it meant “knowing that you can afford more for the kids, their activities and this and that.” Middle class respondents often mentioned that they wanted to settle into their jobs or climb the corporate ladder prior to embarking on parenthood, or that they wanted their partners to do that. Bree, a 25-year-old accountant, earned more than her partner but wanted to stay home with her children for the first few years of their lives. She explained, “Financially right now everything is really good. I know that he wants to move up in his job, so it would probably be good to wait a couple of years, until he’s really comfortable where he is.” Karen, a 24-year-old graduate student, wanted to defer children to a point in the future where she would be “more established at that point with my career, where I want to be and what I want to be doing and hopefully settled in, you know, where he will have worked for long enough too that we can be in a steady place.” For these respondents, becoming established took time, and therefore childbearing would have to be delayed.
In many ways, the approach to planning children encapsulated the major differences between service and middle class couples on other fronts. As they did with family planning, our middle class respondents were better able to communicate their desires, had time lines for the optimal time for events to occur (such as the appropriate timing to begin discussing engagement and marriage), and were generally amenable to negotiating with partners. Our service class respondents, in contrast, were more often reacting to the imperfect hand they were dealt, and often lacked the ability to articulate a desired life plan, perhaps because they had already been thrown so many curves. Their experiences, therefore, differed dramatically. They moved in together more rapidly, often due to economic exigencies; they experienced unintended pregnancies, even though many were already parents; and their economic situations did not enable them to anticipate enough stability to desire to take the next step in their relationship towards marriage – engagement.
Learn more about Cohabitation Nation at the University of California Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue