Made up of more pets than people, Lauren Higbee’s family is unique. Higbee, 25, says her family is composed of her three cats — Zoey, Ruby and Bear — and her boyfriend, JP Redman.
Higbee and her boyfriend have been together for 2 1/2 years. They moved into the same apartment in August. For both of them, it’s the first time they have ever lived with a significant other.
“He’s tidier than I am, so he’s adjusting to that,” says Higbee.
Moving in together happened naturally, a logical step for a couple who was already spending most of their time together.
What did not happen naturally, however, was getting married.
“We live like we’re married,” Higbee says. “(Marriage) is just not something I’m really worried about. I’m more worried about money and bills.”
Higbee is one among many. Nationally marriage is on the decline, while cohabitation is on the rise. A survey conducted by the PEW Research Center last month found that nearly four of out of every 10 Americans believe marriage is obsolete. Just 26 percent of all twenty-somethings are now married, while in 1960 two-thirds of people in their 20s had already tied the knot.
It’s not that people aren’t maintaining long-term relationships. They are. They just aren’t getting married. Forty-four percent of all adults have cohabited with a significant other at some time in their lives. And the young are more likely to view cohabitation in a positive light.
“People feel much more comfortable having sexual relationships with people whom they’re not married,” says Dennis Karpowitz, associate professor of psychology at Kansas University.
Karpowitz teaches Marriage Theory at KU. He says people are more relaxed about sexuality than they were 50 years ago. According to the PEW study, 46 percent of Americans now believe living together without being married is OK. And 9 percent believe cohabitation is positive for society, a preamble before making the plunge into marriage.
“The real question is what’s driving these changes,” Karpowitz says. “Many people are delaying marriage primarily to focus on their career; they are waiting to get established and secure financially before deciding to marry. They think, ‘I first need to get secure in terms of financial security, then I’ll think about family and children.’ That’s a very different way of thinking about things than was the case when the second World War ended.”
Will Elniff, 26, is looking for Mrs. Right. He says he’d like to meet her tomorrow, but even if he did, he wouldn’t marry her for another three to five years.
“I’ve got to finish all of my school before that happens, including the paralegal certificate that I want to pursue from Johnson County,” Elniff says. “Well, as much as I hate to say it, many people are attracted to those with money, a good job or a good career.”
Financial security is essential to a good marriage, says Elniff, which is why he’ll be postponing marriage until he’s established professionally.
Some people aren’t just postponing marriage. Some people, like Anthony Faraci, 24, are choosing to abandon it altogether.
“I never intend to get married,” says Faraci. “I don’t believe in the church. And as for the economic standpoint, it’s unfair to tie one person to another financially.”
Studies show marriage contains benefits other forms of long-term relationships do not. For one, married couples feel more secure in their relationships than unmarried people.
“Marriage has tremendous advantages over being single or living together,” says Karpowitz. “It has advantage economically, in terms of happiness, in terms of security, in terms of the quality of sexual relationship people have.”
All around, research shows married people reap benefits that unmarried people don’t.
But for people like Elniff, Faraci and Higbee, those benefits aren’t enough.
“When I was younger, marriage was something I assumed I would do,” says Higbee. “(But) I don’t even think about it now.”