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Religiosity and Individuals’ Decision to Cohabit

Literature Review

Recently, there have been shifting patterns of marriage and family formation. Along with an increased number of divorces, there has been a rise in the number of people choosing cohabitation over marriage (Graf, 2019; Vorster, 2008). According to Graf (2019), 59% of US adults aged 18-44 have ever cohabited, while only 50% of them have ever been married. The trend of preferring cohabitation over marriage gives rise to concern for several reasons. First, cohabiting unions demonstrate less stability over time than marriage unions (Sassler & Lichter, 2020). Second, cohabiting individuals are less satisfied with their relationships than married ones (Graf, 2019).

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Vorster (2008) also points out that children in cohabiting unions are more “fragile” than those in married families, and cohabiting unions with children are more likely to dissolve than married ones (p. 474). At the same time, researchers emphasize the role of religion in preserving traditional marriage and family patterns (Kogan & Weißmann, 2019; Vorster, 2008). Therefore, this study will aim to answer the research question of how the degrees of religiosity are related to people’s decision to cohabit.

For the purpose of this paper, it is necessary to provide operational definitions of religiosity and cohabitation. Religiosity is defined as “an expression of the intensity of individuals’ religious beliefs,” i.e., the degree to which individuals are involved in religious practices and their religious community’s life (Kogan & Weißmann, 2019, p. 3632). It will be measured in terms of the importance of religion to individuals and will include four degrees of religiosity, ranging from not at all important to very important. Cohabitation refers to a situation when “a couple shares a residence but not a marriage” (Griffiths et al., 2017, p. 310). The study will investigate whether individuals of various degrees of religiosity have had an experience cohabiting.

Researchers studied various factors associated with people’s choosing cohabitation over marriage. For example, Wilson, Chambers, and Woods (2005) explored the relationship between cohabitation and race. They found that never-married African Americans were more likely to have cohabited than their never-married Caucasian counterparts (Wilson et al., 2005). Researchers also found that Caucasians were more likely to transit to marriage after cohabitation, while for African Americans, the marriage did not follow cohabitation (Wilson et al., 2005).

Mexican Americans approve of cohabitation because they see it as a precursor of marriage, while Puerto Ricans view cohabitation as an alternative to marriage (Wilson et al., 2005). Thus, culture is a significant factor influencing individuals’ decisions regarding union formation. Since religion is part of the culture, it may be assumed that it also has an impact on people’s choice of marriage or cohabitation.

While culture is an important factor associated with family and marriage, various studies came to the conclusion that individuals choose cohabitation over marriage for economic reasons. For example, a recent survey by Pew Research Center revealed that 38% of cohabiting adults moved in with their partners for financial reasons, and 37% of them did so for convenience (Graf, 2019). Furthermore, among those cohabiters who plan to marry someday, 29% say that their partners are not ready financially for marriage yet, and 27% argue that they themselves lack finances for marriage (Graf, 2019).

Sassler and Lichter (2020) explain this by increasing income inequality and a gap between the middle and poor classes. Since marriage requires money, it is increasingly viewed as a “luxury,” so cohabitation represents a cheaper alternative, “a kind of ‘poor man’s’ marriage” (Sassler & Lichter, 2020, p. 42). Hence, individuals’ financial position is strongly related to their decision to cohabit rather than marry.

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Although various factors are associated with union formation decisions, with individuals’ economic situation being one of the most important of them, there is a view that religion can be the factor restraining people from cohabiting. For example, Vorster (2008) provides an overview of Christian principles related to marriage. The researcher argues that the Bible views marriage not as a private matter but as a public one (Vorster, 2008).

From this perspective, cohabitation seems questionable because it neglects the significance of a vow and disregards “the involvement of the fellow Christians as witnesses of the vow, the civil authorities and the extended family” (Vorster, 2008, p. 474). Vorster (2008) comes to the conclusion that current trends in union formation are damaging from the Christian point of view. Therefore, Christians and churches may try to fix the negative trends by the dissemination of Christian principles related to marriage and family.

Various scholars studied the impact of religion on individuals’ relationships and attitudes toward different family patterns. Kogan and Weißmann (2019) examined the association between young people’s religion and religiosity and their attitudes toward sexual liberalization and pre-marital cohabitation. The participants of their study were immigrant adolescents in four immigrant-receiving countries – Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany, and England. Researchers found that individuals adhering to Christianity or Islam and having a high degree of religiosity rejected pre-marital cohabitation and sexual liberalization (Kogan & Weißmann, 2019).

Such views pertain to Christians of both majority and minority ethnic views and cannot be explained by individuals’ ethnic or immigrant background and socio-demographic characteristics (Kogan & Weißmann, 2019). At the same time, less religious and non-religious youth, regardless of their religious affiliation, are more tolerant of pre-marital cohabitation (Kogan & Weißmann, 2019). Kogan and Weißmann (2019) also explained why highly religious Muslims’ intolerance toward sexual liberation drew more public attention than zealous Christians’ intolerance. The reason for this is that, among Muslims, there are more highly religious individuals than among Christians, and they change their religious convictions more rarely.

Another study aimed at exploring the differences in religiosity among single persons, married individuals, and those in non-formalized relationships. It was conducted by Czyżowska, Gurba, Białek, Czyżowska, and Kalus (2020), who studied the sample of 302 men and 321 women in Poland. They found that people in non-formalized relationships were less religious than married individuals (Czyżowska et al., 2020).

Researchers related these results to the fact that in Catholicism, marriage was highly valuable, while non-formalized relationships were unacceptable, so highly religious people chose this type of family pattern over cohabitation. Czyżowska et al. (2020) also discovered that there was no significant difference in religiosity between married men and women, which may indicate that people select partners with similar personal values.

Overall, researchers found significant differences in the values of married and non-married people. Married individuals valued traditions and security and were inclined to limit their aspirations for the sake of their partner, while individuals in non-formalized relationships appreciated self-direction, hedonism, excitement, and novelty (Czyżowska et al., 2020). Thus, the level of religiosity and personal values constitute a considerable difference between married and cohabiting couples.

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One research focused on exploring the role of religion in the relationships of cohabiting individuals. Henderson, Ellison, and Glenn (2017) found that cohabiting and dating couples sharing common religious values were more satisfied with their relationships and more willing to marry someday than other individuals. However, researchers also reported that cohabiting partners attending religious services sometimes could experience social stigma because of their religious communities’ unacceptance of their non-formalized relationships (Henderson et al., 2017). Hence, religion is positively associated with the quality of relationships in same-faith couples.

To sum up, people’s decision to cohabit rather than marry is related to various factors, the most prominent among which is their financial situation. Yet, studies also show that higher religiosity leads people to choose marriage over cohabitation. Research also suggests that this choice is related to individuals’ degree of religiosity, while religious affiliation is not very important. The reviewed studies explored the association between religiosity and the decision to cohabit in European countries and were focused mainly on young people.

Research Design

The purpose of this study is to identify whether there is a relationship between individuals’ degree of religiosity and their involvement in cohabitation. The literature review suggests that, although there is a persistent trend toward choosing cohabitation over marriage, religion discourages people from cohabiting. Given these findings, this study hypothesizes that the higher the degree of individuals’ religiosity, the less likely they are to engage in cohabitation.

The independent variable will be religiosity because it is assumed that the degree of individuals’ religiosity influences their decision to cohabit or marry. Griffiths et al. (2017) state that an independent variable is used for the cause and a dependent variable refers to the effect. So, the dependent variable will be people’s decision to cohabit or marry. The research method will be a survey, which is an appropriate method for researching people’s reported individual behaviors and attitudes (Griffiths et al., 2017). To measure the independent variable, the survey will contain a question about the importance of religion for a person. The importance will range from 0 to 3, with 0 meaning that religion is not important for a person, and 3 meaning that religion is very important. The dependent variable will be measured by asking people’s relationship status and attitudes toward cohabitation.

The research design for this study will be non-experimental because the independent variable, i.e., religiosity, cannot be manipulated. A sample for the survey will include people aged over 18 who are currently in relationships that last at least one year. The survey will be administered via the Internet because this method is cost-effective and allows for reaching a large number of participants. In addition, an online survey excludes the possibility of interviewer bias.

The researcher will ensure that the study will have reliability and validity. The reliability of the survey will be ensured by composing questions that cannot be interpreted ambiguously and make respondents give the same answers each time they take the survey. The validity will be ensured by measuring the religiosity of married and cohabiting individuals to study the association between religiosity and the decision to cohabit rather than marry.


Czyżowska, D., Gurba, E., Białek, A., Czyżowska, N., & Kalus, A. (2020). Young adults in relationships and singles: Religiosity and the structure of values. Journal of Beliefs & Values, 41(4), 388-405. Web.

Graf, N. (2019). Key findings on marriage and cohabitation in the U.S. Pew Research Center. Web.

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Griffiths, H., Keirns, N., Strayer, E., Cody-Rydzewski, S., Scaramuzzo, G., Sadler, T., … Jones, F. (2017). Introduction to sociology 2e. Houston, TX: Rice University.

Henderson, A. K., Ellison, C. G., & Glenn, N. D. (2017). Religion and relationship quality among cohabiting and dating couples. Journal of Family Issues, 39(7), 1904-1932. Web.

Kogan, I., & Weißmann, M. (2019). Religion and sexuality: Between- and within-individual differences in attitudes to pre-marital cohabitation among adolescents in four European countries. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 46(17), 3630-3654. Web.

Sassler, S., & Lichter, D. T. (2020). Cohabitation and marriage: Complexity and diversity in union‐formation patterns. Journal of Marriage and Family, 82(1), 35-61. Web.

Vorster, J. M. (2008). Christian ethical perspectives on marriage and family life in modern Western culture. HTS, 64(1), 463-481.

Wilson, M. N., Chambers, A. L., & Woods, L. N. (2005). Fathers in African American families: The importance of social and cultural context. In W. M. Pinsof & J. L. Lebow (Eds.), Family psychology: The art of the science (pp. 327-348). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

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