While you may not be a Twi-hard (obsessive fan of the Twilight series of books and movies) and not much interested in the latest breaking developments in the relationship news of actors Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart, I invite you to read on. Apparently the young couple not only recently reconciled, but moved in together. This news then prompted rumors of a marriage proposal by Pattinson to Stewart, but why? Why would society hope these two young people get married?
“Living together and trust”
If I were Stewart’s girlfriend (as far out as that sounds even as I write it), I might suggest she stick with cohabitation with her vampire man for some time. After all, according to Forbes Magazine and as reported in the Huffington Post, "Twilight," made its two stars -- Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson -- Hollywood's highest-grossing romantic on-screen couple. ("Twilight" earned a whopping $1.17 billion domestically; internationally, the franchise grossed $3.3 billion.) She would have a better shot at not only happiness, but holding onto her newly acquired wealth as a female.
This is more than an article about relationships; it seeks to talk to policy implications of divorce and the economic impact of divorce on women. Some statistics indicate that by far, the #1 reason women fall out of the middle class is divorce.
The negative impact of divorce on women’s finances
According to recent data from Pew Research Center, divorced women are 35.8% more likely to have fallen out of the middle class. In contrast, divorced men are 13% more likely to have fallen out of the middle class.
One of my favorite authors, Robin Black, writes in her Jan. 14, 2013 post on BeyondTheMargins.com, titled, “Completing A Story: What’s Love Got To Do With It?:”
“In 1993, my first marriage failed – eight years and two children in – and over the months, the years, that followed, I took on a strange, unanticipated role: Advisor to the unhappily wed. How did you know? they would quiz me, at toddlers’ birthday parties, at school assemblies. How did you know to end it? they would ask as we shepherded our Power Rangers, our witches, down dark, suburban Halloween streets.
“Soon enough, I remarried and people stopped thinking of me as a poster child for getting-divorced-when-you-have-little-kids, so I heard those questions less and less.”
As I sometimes do feel like that divorced single mother poster child in suburban Denver myself, I laughed out loud when I read this. But it had me thinking and I pulled some recent research to frame this debate about marriage, cohabitation and women. (I will apologize up front that this article may do an inadequate job of addressing non-heterosexual dating relationships but in respecting that not all relationships are heterosexual ones, I will refer to your partner as “they, them or their.”)
University of North Carolina research says marriage can advance men’s economic stability
A 2012 study from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, “Reassessing Differences in Work and Income in Cohabitation and Marriage,” states:
“Marriage is associated with increases in men’s income. Across the sample, average income for males was higher in each progressive stage of cohabitation toward marriage.”
Overview of the same research reports:
“As of 2010, 58% of adult women 44 and under had lived with an opposite-sex unmarried partner in the past few years; that figure was 33% for that group roughly two decades prior, according to the National Center for Marriage and Family Research. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that among women, “68% of unions formed in 1997-2001 began as a cohabitation rather than as a marriage,” and the rate of all women cohabiting increased from 3.0% in 1982 to 11% in 2006-2010. These relationships can be economically beneficial for couples, but that is not always the case — particularly for lower-income individuals, as the Pew Research Center notes. Moreover, as cohabitation before marriage becomes more prevalent, it is becoming less of a factor in predicting divorce.”
What’s going on in Colorado
In her May 2011 Denver Post article titled, “Colorado divorce rate plummets during recession,” Colleen O’Connor writes:
“As home prices and the economy plummeted, the divorce rate has trended downward.
The divorce rate in Colorado has dropped to 4.2 percent per 1,000 people, a rate hit only once — in 2003 — in the past 21 years.
In 2007, the year the recession began, the rate was 4.4 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. The latest data available are from 2009.
Though that might seem like good news, there is a shadow side.
Those familiar with divorce, from lawyers to investment advisers to marital therapists, say the drop is mostly because of economic issues: People can't afford to maintain two households or pay an attorney.
Often, the house is worth less than when it was bought, so there is no equity for either partner to start a new life.
And the financial issues are now weighted with a new problem. After more than three years of struggling, people are tired.”
In the 2012 Legislative Session, State Representative Beth McCann of House District 8 sponsored HB 1256: Formula For Spousal Maintenance Upon Divorce and then pulled the bill at the request of the Colorado Bar Association to allow more time to discuss the details. The bill provided guidelines to courts regarding the award of permanent maintenance (previously called alimony) in divorce cases. A working group drafted new language for this initiative over the summer. It is expected that Representative McCann will be introducing a similar bill in the new Legislative Session which opened in January 2013.
This will be important legislation, because as noted earlier, divorce can have a devastating and horrible impact on a woman’s economic stability without better public policies in place to protect both women and men.
Cohabitation on the rise
According to Meg Jay, clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and author, in her April 14, 2012 Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times:
“Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing.”
Jay talks to the myth that cohabitation before getting married as a good way to avoid divorce. She makes a compelling argument. There are so many good reasons to not get married in today’s age that it is truly a testament to people’s faith and commitment to just one erotic love. People not only still get married, in Colorado, some very admirable people continue to be dedicated in their pursuit of and to advocate for the passage of a law permitting legal Civil Unions in our state for same-sex couples.
Personally, I am proud to be a straight ally for this Civil Unions campaign. Even if I am on the fence about whether marriage is a wise idea in current times, it is an important measure for equality.
Accounting for differences between women and men
“Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment.”
Touching on the common ground between men and women, Jay continues:
“One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.”
This brings up at an interesting question: have people’s standards for a spouse become unrealistic? In a technological age of instant gratification, constant distractions and rapid change, can any romantic partner satisfy a single individual’s image of the ideal lover? I would argue, yes, but it still seems wisest to me to try living together, especially for women, in order to protect themselves economically. For women, it’s best not to look at cohabitation as some audition to be “their wife,” but live instead in the moment. Too often today we are overly focused on what is next. Not being “their wife” might give women a greater sense of independence and security. Good things.
After all, English literature is filled with hope. The best literature is written from real life. And timeless literature speaks to us even today.