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Cohabitation is perceived in the society as the form of relationships which is an effective alternative to the traditional marriage because of focusing on the principles of flexibility, freedom, and equality, but few couples can follow the principles of egalitarian relationships and focus on equality related to gender roles during a long period of time. The division of gender roles in cohabitating couples is often realized according to the traditional visions shared within the society.
Although cohabitation is closely associated with egalitarian relationships and gender-neutral division of roles in a couple, cohabitation cannot guarantee that partners will reject traditional gender roles typical for married couples because many cohabitating couples follow traditional gender attitudes and roles accepted in the society, discuss paid and unpaid work and duties in relation to gender, and share stereotypes on breadwinner and homemaker roles.
The Principles of Cohabitation and Traditional Gender Roles
In spite of the fact that cohabitation is based on the principles of flexibility and equality, many cohabitating couples build their relationships according to the visions and ideals typical for discussing married couples and their gender roles. Thus, partners in cohabitating couples are also influenced by the social stereotypes, and they follow traditional gender attitudes and roles without references to the fact that cohabitation was chosen in order to state the individual freedom in relationships (Miller & Sassler, 2010).
According to Batalova and Cohen, socialization is the important factor to form people’s gender role attitudes, thus, partners in cohabitating couples as well as husbands and wives in married couples can “perform household labor according to what they have learned about appropriate behavior for men and women” (Batalova & Cohen, 2002, p. 745).
Gender role is a complex notion, and it can be discussed in relation to many factors which are important for the development of couples’ relationships. As a result, such principles of cohabitation as egalitarianism and flexibility do not work in many couples because of strong traditional gender role attitudes.
The Division of Duties in Relation to Gender
Cohabitation is discussed as a less formal variant of close relationships which has all the advantages of marriage, but cohabitation provides even more benefits for the couples because of depending on the idea of equality which is attractive for young people.
In reality, cohabitation can differ little from marriage regarding the division of gender roles and domestic duties. Although women in cohabitating couples can occupy high social positions and develop successful careers as well as men, the division of domestic unpaid activities is often unequal because of gender.
Batalova and Cohen state that “despite men’s greater contribution, women still do at least twice as much routine housework as men do” (Batalova & Cohen, 2002, p. 746). Men in cohabitating couples are not ready to share housework duties equally to women because of the social stereotypes associated with gender roles. As a result, women are actively involved in routine housework along with performing their social responsibilities and paid work.
Women in cohabitating couples are still expected to concentrate on housework as their primary duties. This vision is in a conflict with the idea that women are equal to men in relation to the career opportunities. Thus, women are expected to be successful in career as well as in housework and care for children (Helgeson, 2005). This tendency becomes more obvious in relation to cohabitating couples in spite of their focus on the ideas of equality, flexibility, and freedom in relationships.
Breadwinner and Homemaker Roles in Cohabitating Couples
The relationships of a cohabitating couple often develop according to the traditional model where a man is a breadwinner and a woman is a homemaker. Even though a woman has the paid work, she is expected to take responsibility for more housework in comparison with a man. Although this approach is characteristic for married couples, it is important to note that cohabiting men are inclined to do housework according to the patterns used by married men (Batalova & Cohen, 2002, p. 746).
There is a range of household activities which are performed by men unwillingly, and the main reason to avoid performing the housework is the status of a breadwinner (Miller & Sassler, 2010). The problem is in the fact that women rarely can rely on this status because their partners are not ready to accept this kind of equal relations, and a role of a homemaker is discussed as most appropriate for a woman.
Thus, the division of gender roles in cohabitating couples is often similar to those ones in married couples, especially in relation to the division of duties and housework activities. Women in cohabitating couples are expected to perform more domestic activities than men without references to their social status, the fact of having paid jobs or the necessity to care for children.
From this point, cohabitation cannot guarantee that the relationships will develop according to the ideals of egalitarianism, modern visions of gender roles distribution, and division of duties and housework activities.
Batalova, J., & Cohen, P. (2002). Premarital cohabitation and housework: Couples in cross-national perspective. Journal of Marriage and Family, 64(3), 743-758.
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Helgeson, V. (2005). The psychology of gender. USA: Pearson/Prentice Hall.
Miller, A., & Sassler, S. (2010). Stability and change in the division of labor among cohabiting couples. Sociological Forum, 25(4), 677-702.