intimate union formation and dissolution 2417

someone will have a successful career or earn a
lot of money are not apparent until individuals
are older and have finished school and started
working. That age is correlated with character
istics that matter on the marriage market is an
insight that can be used to interpret the trend
in age at marriage for US women and men. In
the mid twentieth century both women and
men married at younger ages than they do
today, in part because men completed schooling
earlier and entered paid work at younger ages,
thus revealing their potential as a breadwinner
at younger ages. With the growth in demand
for more highly educated workers, determining
whether a potential husband would be a good
economic provider takes longer as men (and
women) stay in school longer and delay the age
at which they marry. At the same time, the
womens movement and improvements in
womens economic opportunities increased the
value to potential husbands of wives earning
potential. Uncertainty about womens economic
potential when they are young also contributes to
the rise in age at marriage, and probably accounts
for the even greater rate of increase in womens
age at marriage than mens. Much, but not all, of
the delay in marriage in the US is compensated
for by the increase in cohabitation before mar
riage. Living together before marriage is one way
that couples learn more about whether a poten
tial partner would be an appropriate spouse, even
if couples do not consciously decide to cohabit as
a step on the way to marriage.
Even with late marriage, there is still uncer
tainty about whether a potential spouse is a
good match. Individuals change after marriage,
sometimes in ways that make them more com
patible and sometimes in ways that are unex
pected. When individuals change in ways that
are not anticipated (e.g., if a person is wrong
about what kind of person their spouse will
become or if one of the partners loses a job)
these unexpected disruptions may increase the
chance that the marriage will dissolve. The rise
in US divorce rates in the 1960s and 1970s
might be explained by unanticipated changes
in spouses expectations about each others gen
der role obligations in marriage associated with
the womens movement and womens greater
labor market opportunities and by decreasing
costs of dissolving unsatisfactory matches.

Many theories about the formation and dissolu
tion of intimate unions claim that unions depend
on individuals assessments of the relative ben
efits of being in the relationship as compared to
an alternative. When cohabitation is rare, it is
likely that the alternative to marriage is being
single. When cohabitation is more widely
accepted, there may be two alternatives to mar
riage: being single or cohabiting. New research
should investigate the conditions that affect the
alternatives individuals weigh in deciding
whether, when, and with whom to form (or
dissolve) a union.
Another productive area for new research
is how individuals form expectations about
potential partners future characteristics (e.g.,
whether they will be good economic providers
or good parents). It is especially important to
learn more about the role of uncertainty in
making decisions about unions and the degree
to which individuals actually think of them
selves as making a decision.
The challenge of designing studies that fully
take into account the range of potential partners
who might form a union, that is, the full
marriage market, is a longstanding problem in
studies of union formation and dissolution.
Research that considers only unions or matches
that have already been formed excludes impor
tant information about the alternatives or failed
Finally, research on unions typically assumes
that the partners or spouses co reside, and that
when the union dissolves, the partners no longer
live together. Co residence is important, but it
is not the only dimension of intimacy and
enduring ties that matters for couple relation
ships. Couples who are deeply committed to
each other and their relationship may live apart
(LAT relationships), and those who live
together may not think of themselves as being
in an enduring or satisfying relationship. Learn
ing more about the continuum of relationships
and the conditions under which they involve co
residence will shed new light on the meaning
and effects of contemporary unions.

SEE ALSO: Cohabitation; Couples Living
Apart Together; Divorce; Family Demography;