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COHABITATION: ADVANCING THEORY AND RESEARCH

Thursday, February 10, 2005
Bowen-Thompson Student Union

Bowling Green State University

Cohabitation is increasingly prominent in the family life course.  A majority of young adults experience cohabitation, which is associated with delayed marriage and heightened odds of divorce.  Cohabitation is also a context for child bearing and rearing. Despite a burgeoning literature on cohabitation, there are critical gaps in our knowledge about this family form.  Indeed, scholars have not reached a consensus about the meaning of cohabitation.  Nor do we fully understand the processes and dynamics involved in these informal unions, which often take on diverse forms.  Moreover, recent work casts doubt on the measurement strategies traditionally used to ascertain cohabitation.

The purpose of our conference is to bring together leading scholars in the field to discuss how we can advance scholarship about cohabitation.  In particular, our conference is organized around three key aims designed to advance both family theory and research on cohabitation.  Our first aim is to place cohabitation in the larger family system by identifying how it is reshaping the family as a social institution.  Our second aim is to appraise how cohabitors themselves create norms and expectations in their own relationships and the implications of this negotiation process both for relationship success and intimate couple relationships in the future.  Finally, our third aim is to critically evaluate the reliability and validity of our measures of cohabitation to enhance our ability to accurately measure this family form.

Theorizing the Meaning of Cohabitation

Session 1. How cohabitation changes the family as a social institution

Presenter: Pamela Smock, University of Michigan

Discussants:     R. Kelly Raley, University of Texas-Austin

                      Melinda Mills, Vrije Universiteit (Free University), The Netherlands

Session 2. How cohabiting couples negotiate and construct meaning in their relationships

Presenter: Scott Stanley, University of Denver

Discussants:     Kathryn Edin, University of Pennsylvania

                      Wendy Manning, Bowling Green State University

Measuring Cohabitation

Session 1. How social scientists measure cohabitation

Presenter: Susan Brown, Bowling Green State University

Discussants:     Lynne Casper, Demographic and Behavioral Sciences Branch, NICHD

                     Seth Sanders, University of Maryland