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Grant funding from the Leo T. McCarthy Foundation is gratefully acknowledged. Use the link below to share a full-text version of this article with your friends and colleagues. Learn more. This paper uses a game theoretic model to explain empirical research which has revealed higher relational satisfaction among married couples than cohabiting couples, as well as among married couples who did not cohabit before marriage.
Despite these findings, in recent decades cohabitation rates have dramatically increased in both Europe and the United States. Instrumental variables estimations on data cohabitation game 28 industrialized countries and 50 U. Concern over the future of the traditional family has become the focus of a deeply divisive debate in many western countries. A major social change in recent decades has been the dramatic increase in the rate of cohabitation of heterosexual unmarried partners: According to U.
Census estimates, the of unmarried cohabiting couples in the United States has increased approximately ten-fold since to nearly 4. A recent study of women in their thirties found that the first residential union for 52 percent of American women and 70 percent of British women was cohabitation rather than marriage. In some Scandinavian countries the figure was found to be even higher; for example, in Sweden it has reached over 90 percent Kiernan This paper uses game-theoretic and empirical methods common to economics to explore several interesting empirical phenomena related to cohabitation and marriage.
The first is that while cohabitation is often viewed as an alternative to marriage in which greater flexibility is perceived to enhance relational satisfaction, empirical studies reveal a consistently cohabitation game ificantly lower level of relational satisfaction among cohabiting couples than among married couples NockBrown and BoothStack and EshlemanTreas and Giesen Another common motivation for cohabitation is its use as a pre-marital screening device. Using a game-theoretic framework, I develop a theory that seeks to explain these empirical phenomena. First, I demonstrate why we should expect marriage to result in a higher level of relational satisfaction than cohabitation.
The essential idea is that for a broader range of individuals, marriage promotes self-control more effectively than cohabitation. The intuition is the following: Define s as the minimum T -period consequence that is required to check selfish behavior toward a partner.
If the consequences of exiting a bad marriage are more severe than the consequences of exiting a bad cohabitation, an individual is more likely to accept s within marriage than in cohabitation in lieu of exiting the relationship. This makes s a more credible deterrent to selfish behavior within marriage than cohabitation.
That it is more difficult for either party to walk away from marriage than cohabitation makes the cooperative outcome more likely within marriage. Why might couples who cohabit before marriage be more likely to divorce? If there is imperfect information, the model predicts that some couples will choose to cohabit as a pre-marital screening device. These couples are a self-selected group for whom cooperation, even within marriage, is most uncertain.
For these couples, the pseudo-cooperative behavior under the relative instability of cohabitation may establish expectations about partner behavior that are taken with the couple into marriage, fostering an outcome that is worse than what the couple could have achieved from a different set of expectations formed by entering into marriage directly. Thus the cohabitation effect can be explained by factors related to both self-selection and behavioral expectations. If cohabitation is empirically associated with lower levels of happiness, then why is it on the rise in western society?
The model generates hypotheses that are used to explain cohabitation trends in Europe and the United States, and for cross-sectional differences between countries. Since increases in cohabitation rates appear to have started in most countries during the mids to early s, possible candidates for an explanation would appear to be a a general liberalization of divorce laws that occurred in many western countries during this period; b the widespread introduction of the contraceptive pill in the mids; c the widespread legalization of abortion in the early s; and d the cohabitation game in women's wages and labor force participation.
Of these four factors, the model highlights the effects from the legalization of abortion and the increase in women's wages and labor force participation. However, children are more likely to be desired within than out of wedlock, so that the availability of abortion increases the reservation payoff within cohabitation more than marriage.
Interestingly, women's labor force participation influences a couple toward cohabitation through two channels: It substitutes women's time away from household activity, lowering the gains from cooperation through activity specialization within the relationship while also increasing reservation payoffs outside a relationship. Separate estimations on data from 28 industrialized countries and 50 U.
These findings are corroborated by a difference-in-differences estimation on cohabitation game U. indicate that a 10 percent increase in women's labor force participation is associated with a 6.
The paper continues with a survey of cohabitation game trends and empirical studies on cohabitation and marriage relationships in Section II. Though most research on marriage and relationships has been undertaken by sociologists and psychologists, marriage is an institution that has increasingly attracted the attention of economists since the seminal work of Becker Other work has centered on the childbearing decision Murphyand intra-household bargaining between spouses Carter and Katz Kevane and Wydick and Seaton provide empirical tests of Nash bargaining models applied to marriage in developing and developed country contexts, respectively.
More recently Matouschek and Rasul attempt to empirically distinguish between three motives for marriage: as an institution that provides an exogenous payoff to partners, marriage as a commitment device, and finally as a screening device.
The authors exploit the timing in the implementation of unilateral divorce laws in the United States for their empirical study, concluding that the predominant reason people marry is that marriage serves as a commitment device. While economics has made forays into understanding the nature of relationships, the most substantial studies of marriage and cohabitation have been undertaken in social psychology, where researchers have carried out a rich array of both theoretical and empirical work.
Batalova and Cohen document differences in cohabitation across countries. Rates of unmarried cohabitation game among adults for selected countries from their study are given in Table 1. Other research has revealed changes in attitudes toward cohabitation, which have become increasingly accepting in most western societies Bumpass and Sweet, ; Booth and Crouter, ; Cohabitation game and Young-de Marco, Taken from the latter, Table 2 illustrates the greater social tolerance of cohabitation in the United States.
Nevertheless, empirical studies by social psychologists have consistently found that married people report higher levels of personal happiness than unmarried people Diener et al. A key question is the extent to which the correlation between marriage and happiness is due to selection effects, or whether it is marriage itself that causes people to be happier.
Some studies such as MastekaasaStutzer and Freyand Frey and Stutzer have found ificant selection effects of happy people into marriage. Frey and Stutzer utilize data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Study, a data set spanning from to from which they are able to carry out estimations on up toobservations of 15, individuals, with some of these individuals moving from singleness to marriage during the year sample period.
First, they find marriage to be associated with ificantly higher levels of happiness than singleness with happiness of cohabitants ranking in the middle. The effect is sizeable, equivalent to the difference in a person having 2. Second, their analysis using panel data allows them to uncover ificant evidence of self-selection effects of happy people into marriage.
Interestingly these self-selection effects are strongest among two groups of individuals, those who marry in their early cohabitation game and those who marry after their early 30s. In both of these groups, Frey and Stutzer find that those in the relevant group who will later marry report ificantly higher life satisfaction scores than those who will remain single. Other research has focused on the similarities and differences in relational outcomes between marriage and cohabitation, i. The empirical evidence suggests that while cohabiting couples report moderately greater levels of personal happiness than single people Stack and EshlemanFrey and Stutzerthere is a ificant difference between marriage and cohabitation in reported happiness and relational functionality NockBrown and BoothStack and EshlemanTreas and Giesen Cohabitation game empirical of Brown and Booth are typical of the literature, and are carried out on a sample of 13, individuals using — U.
National Survey of Family and Households data. Their show that relative to marriage, cohabitation is ificantly associated with greater levels of disagreement in relationships, a lower perception of relational fairness, relative unhappiness, and less frequent partner interaction.
Empirical research also suggests a higher level of sexual infidelity among cohabiting couples than married couples. On a sample of 3, Americans from the National Health and Social Life Survey, Treas and Giesen reveal a ificantly higher likelihood of sexual infidelity among cohabiting couples than married couples. Recent research has furthermore tried to understand why married couples who cohabit prior to marriage appear to experience higher levels of dissatisfaction, separation, and divorce than couples who did not ly cohabit, i. Self-selection based on demographic characteristics and relational attitudes appear to for part of the phenomenon.
But Cohan and Kleinbaum conclude from laboratory experiments with couples involved in problem solving exercises that the cohabitation effect is due principally to poor relationship-building skills and communication habits in marriage that are developed during cohabitation.
Candy and Bubba play an infinitely repeated game in which each has a defecting and a cooperative strategy. The model incorporates the following three axioms:.
Though purely altruistic motives can certainly influence behavior in relationships, I posit that the human tendency toward self-interested behavior influences decision-making. Payoffs in marriage areindicative of a Prisoners' Dilemma, such that each player has a dominant strategy characterized by the more selfish behavior in the stage game.
After any stage of the repeated interaction, either player may choose to exit the game. The second axiom merely says that marriage vows matter. Breaking such vows, and the legal agreement that lies behind them, is more painful than if vows were never made. When players threaten to retaliate against a defection, the response must be credible; otherwise such statements merely invite partner defections and codependent behavioral patterns.
For an excellent review on codependent behaviors, see Prest and Protinsky Notice that by equation 1 the punishment period T must be sufficiently largewhile 2 requires that the punishment period T must be sufficiently small. After any stage game, an unsatisfied partner can leave the relationship, resulting in a payoff of to each player for the remainder of the game. P roposition 1: The cooperative equilibrium is feasible for more individuals in marriage than cohabitation. Notice from Figure 2 that the marriage contract functions as a discipline device for the middle-range types within the spectrum.
For those with the equilibrium is possible in either cohabitation or in marriage, while for those withit is never possible. The introduction listed two common motives for cohabitation. Here I will focus on the first motivation, the desire for increased relational flexibility. Suppose that partners make a single choice of cohabitation or marriage cohabitation game then view the relationship as plays of an infinitely repeated game within that arrangement. This is not necessarily the standard problem of asymmetric information; those considering marriage often worry not only about their partner's ability to sustain a positive relationship, but also their own ability.
Let be a uniform density function where the domain of and be its associated distribution function. The true lies within the interval c with mean such thatwhere the parameter c constitutes a measure of imperfect information. Since the distribution function of a higher stochastically cohabitation game that of a lowermarriage is increasingly appealing for a couple with higher. This le to the following proposition that provides a rationale for what is found in the empirical literature:.
P roposition 2: Married couples will be happier on average than cohabiting couples. The intuition to the result follows from a combination of selection and incentive effects: Every couple with opts for marriage over cohabitation. This combined with the result that cooperation is easier within marriage than in cohabitation makes it straightforward to demonstrate that every couple choosing marriage has a higher level of expected happiness than every couple choosing cohabitation. The fact that married couples have a higher expected payoff ex ante to marriage implies that they are happier on average ex post.
Hall and Zhao find that a primary motive for cohabitation is that individuals use it as a screening device for marriage. Cohan and Kleinbaum review three hypotheses that have sought to explain the cohabitation effect, the association between pre-marital cohabitation and marital failure. Some such as Kurdek attribute the greater rate of failure of these marriages to union duration, explaining that such findings are consistent with a normal decline in marital satisfaction after the first few years of marriage and that ly cohabiting couples are, in many respects, farther along this path.
A second hypothesis is a self-selection effect: Cohabiting types may be more apt to possess negative characteristics that can lead to marital instability and divorce Thornton, Axinn, and Hill Lillard, Brien and Waite provide strong empirical support for this notion. A third explanation is that poor relational habits that couples acquire in cohabitation have subsequent negative affects within marriage Axinn and ThorntonSchoen and Weinick The first hypothesis does not appear to be consistent with empirical work that finds lower levels of relational satisfaction among newly cohabiting couples than newly married couples who were not cohabiting ly Brown and Booth Hence the following extension of the model draws on the second of these hypotheses; subsequently I will explore the third hypothesis.
The explanation cohabitation game equation 7 is the following: If a couple decides to cohabit cohabitation game than marry, the probability that they will choose to marry after m periods is. The proposition can be easily understood in light of equation 7. Let be the cutoff point for the decision in 7. With zero or close to zero, any small risk of divorce is more than offset by.
At some intermediate valuedivorce rates are the same. Thus, one explanation for higher divorce rates among premaritally cohabiting couples is a pure selection effect: Unless information acquisition is high in cohabitation, the divorce rate among pre-marital cohabitants is higher because riskier couples choose it.
The third hypothesis of Cohan and Kleinbaum is that divorce is higher among premaritally cohabiting couples because premarital cohabitation fosters poor relational habits. A rather informal application of the model suggests how this may happen. In determining the prospects of different potential equilibria, the expectations of players matters. Thus in exploring the most likely equilibrium outcomes in marriage, it would be a mistake to ignore the role of game play during premarital cohabitation in creating expectations about game play during marriage.
Marriage typically begins with public vows by the couple cohabitation game defections, which may help to create an optimistic strategy that assumes the best about the other partner's behavior. How might this equilibrium behavior in cohabitation affect the creditability of marital vows, and in turn influence behavior in marriage?
Observe that while the defecting right-hand side is the same as in 1 after cancellations, the rewards on the cooperative left-hand side are smaller given the assumption that nobody prefers to be defected on, or. In summary, the model provides two possible explanations of the cohabitation effect. First, it could be attributable to the second of Cohan and Kleinbaum's hypotheses, a selection effect in the context of imperfect screening. If screening during cohabitation is relatively effective, then it could be attributed to the third hypothesis, poor relational habits developed in cohabitation that create cohabitation game self-fulfilling prophesy of reduced cooperation within marriage, with a combination of the two effects being possible and even likely.
What s for the rapid rise of cohabitation in many Western societies? One answer is that the increase in premarital cohabitation is a product of a general movement within western society away from traditional ideas about marriage, divorce, birth control, abortion, women's rights, and a host of other related issues.Cohabitation game
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A Note on Cohabitation and Marriage