He says, she says: Men and women view living together very differently

Feb 11, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- More couples are living together than ever before, but the reasons men give for cohabiting—and the concerns they express about it—differ markedly from women's, a new study shows.

The study, forthcoming in the Journal of Family Issues, is based on in-depth personal interviews and focus group sessions with 192 young people in their late twenties. Approximately half the participants were men, half were , and there were approximately equal numbers of white, Black, and Hispanic participants.

Topics included positive and negative aspects of cohabitation, reasons couples might decide to move in together rather than date or marry, reasons not to cohabit, and the kinds of changes that might occur when a couple first moves in together.

"Men and women expressed very different expectations for cohabiting relationships," said Pamela Smock, a sociologist who directs the University of Michigan Population Studies Center, part of the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). "We found that responses varied by gender much more than they did by race or ethnicity, suggesting a substantial gender gap in the perceived role of cohabitation in the union formation process."

Smock conducted the study with Penelope Huang of the University of California Hastings College of the Law, Wendy Manning of Bowling Green State University, and Cara Bergstrom-Lynch of East Connecticut State University. The research was supported by grants from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

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Penny Huang talks about new ISR research that shows men and women have different expectation from cohabitation

Overall, three key reasons for living together emerged: wanting to spend more time with one's partner, wanting to share life's financial burdens, and wanting to test compatibility. But the way men and women talked about these three broad reasons was very different.

Women volunteered "love" as a reason to live together three times as often as men did, while men cited "sex" as a reason to live together four times as often as women did.

Both men and women saw cohabitation as a temporary state in which to gauge compatibility, but major gender differences emerged in the underlying goals of living together. Women saw it as a transitional arrangement preceding marriage, while men tended to see it as a convenient, low-risk way to see if a relationship had longer-term potential, using terms like "test drive" to describe the arrangement.

But the strongest gender differences emerged in the perceived disadvantages of cohabitation. Women believed that living together meant less commitment and legitimacy than marriage, while saw the greatest disadvantage as a limitation on their freedom.

Despite the gender mismatches in motives and expectations, Smock notes that young adults appear to see cohabitation as an expected part of life. "Ultimately, the clearest message was that living together is very much taken for granted. As a result, the upward climb in the proportion of young adults who cohabit is likely to continue for some time," she said.

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User comments : 15

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geokstr
1 / 5 (1) Feb 11, 2011
Read Dave Barry's "Complete Guide to Guys", for a hilarious answer to every one of the questions on this perplexing subject.
Dummy
4.1 / 5 (13) Feb 11, 2011
For woman, love is a code word for: Provide for me!
mrlewish
5 / 5 (2) Feb 11, 2011
I suspect that men and women view marriage very differently also. No surprises here folks.
JRDarby
4.5 / 5 (4) Feb 11, 2011
For woman, love is a code word for: Provide for me!


And there's an evolutionary basis to that, as well as the fact that men have a higher proportion of sex- and freedom seeking inclinations (mentioned in this article).
gmurphy
5 / 5 (5) Feb 12, 2011
Love is a code word for "commit to me". Chemical bonding which increases viability of long-term commitment, vital for generation of healthy successful offspring.
Alcedine
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2011
The degree to which this is a confirmation of gender clichés would make me want to laugh if it didn't make me want to cry. In a staggering display of equality between the sexes, the wishes of both partners are equally human, equally valid, and equally unlikely to be fulfilled.
SteveL
not rated yet Feb 12, 2011
We may not talk about it between genders very often, but anyone who has been in relationships already knew this.
axemaster
2.5 / 5 (4) Feb 12, 2011
Women volunteered "love" as a reason to live together three times as often as men did, while men cited "sex" as a reason to live together four times as often as women did.


Just a possibility, but isn't it plausible that women aren't going to say "sex" because there are such huge negative connotations there in our society? In other words, they might be thinking of "sex", but will say "love" because they don't want to get labeled a whore.
ISEEE
5 / 5 (2) Feb 12, 2011
Sex before marriage creates the illusion of love.

When people live together they enjoy the convenience of being able to up and walk away which ironically keeps them together because they know can be rejected and left at any time. This is the way these relationships work. But when they both wake up and find themselves older and less marketable, desperation settles in an thus the woman ends up settling for a man and the man,, well if he has money the women will still come, but who knows who will truly love them.
maxcypher
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2011
Men look for a hot body; women look for a fat wallet.
Silverhill
5 / 5 (1) Feb 12, 2011
As the (semi-)joke puts it:
A woman wants one man to fulfill her every need.
A man wants every woman to fulfill his one need.
Elissa
not rated yet Feb 12, 2011
without going back to read the article,I believe the study was geared to boys/girls in their 20's. I truly believe that older people, 50's and up- men and women, hold different reasons for living together.
lynne
not rated yet Feb 13, 2011
What about the fact that the institution of marriage is no longer working for our society? Many relationships fail AFTER marriage. Couples who lived together just fine may not survive when they step into the marriage paradigm. IMO,marriage is an unnatural contract that allows the participants to exploit each other. Authentic committed relationships don't need such a contract and probably do better without it.
Telekinetic
1 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2011
@lynne:
I believe you're right about the failure of marriage. If you want to stir up a hornet's nest on this site, just mention the wedding ceremony with the words "in the eyes of God", and stand way back. I think many couples fear that their kids would be stigmatized as "bastards" without the contract. Also, a successful relationship, married or cohabitation, requires the "art" of yielding to one another, which is difficult in a culture where people feel "ripped off" by the circumstances of life.
nuge
4 / 5 (1) Feb 13, 2011
It's true, men and women are a little bit different. This is the subject of every sitcom and every stand-up comedy routine in history. Groundbreaking science, right here.