Wed | Feb 19, 2020

Editors' Forum | Women still want a ring, study shows

Published:Sunday | February 17, 2019 | 12:27 AMErica Virtue/Senior Gleaner Writer
Dr Janet Cain-Walters, of Northern Caribbean University, gestures while addressing journalists at a Gleaner Editors’ Forum last Thursday.

Despite cohabiting in decades-long, satisfying relationships, most women are still hoping to get a marriage proposal from their spouses and sealing the deal with a wedding ring, research from the mid-island Northern Caribbean University (NCU) has shown.

However, men, the research revealed, hold deep-seated reservations against tying the knot, citing commitment fears and hang-ups about their wives changing shortly after saying ‘I do’.

“We found that women were more apt to get married. ... They were prepared to wait for years if necessary to be married,” said Janet Cain-Walters, a social scientist at NCU’s College of Behavioural Sciences and Humanities.

“Women are more emotionally connected. They want the security, so they will stay,” she said.

The wedding band commands respect and implies social status, especially in church circles, said Cain-Walters, causing unmarried women to feel inadequate, or scorned, leading them to be less inclined to immerse themselves in religious activities. Some of the women “felt disrespected in the church and in the society, and so they were more likely to stay away from church”, she said.

Titled An investigation of the Factors Influencing Cohabiting Couples Reasons for Remaining Unmarried: A Phenomenological Approach, Cain-Walters’ research studied 20 cohabiting couples in Manchester, Clarendon, and St Elizabeth. It explored the factors that influenced couples to remain unmarried. The couples were between their early 20s and late 50s.

At least five couples received a proposal of marriage, but were still waiting, while the other 15 had no proposal.

“Commitment was one of the issues. Women are more apt to settle down. They want to be in a committed relationship,” the researcher said. “Men are more comfortable playing the field. So they go on, and year one or year two, and they propose, and they have this lady going on for years and years. The woman will stay in the relationship and the years go by,” Cain-Walters added, explaining that some even die before getting a ring.

Even when women were making most of the money in the relationship and were accomplished professionals, “they still want to get married”, the researcher said.

‘Substitute Marriages’

Forty-nine per cent of the couples lived in what she called ‘substitute marriages’, or established common-law relationships, with 22 per of that cohort involved in ‘dating cohabitation’, indicating they were still hoping to get a proposal.

Sixteen per cent were said to be in a ‘premarital’ state, meaning that a proposal had been made and wedding preparations were under way. Another 13 per cent were in ‘trial marriage’, “testing to see what is happing”.

However, fears of changing attitudes of women after marriage have been cited as one reason why men procrastinated on marriage, with one of the couples reviewed living together for 35 years. Comfort in cohabitation was also reported as a factor for not getting hitched.

Twenty-nine per cent of men said that the time was not right, while 19 per cent said that they were not inclined towards traditional marriage.

Cain-Walters said that it was commonplace for men to say that “there is no need for a piece of paper to make our union legal”. According to her, persons also felt that an avalanche of problems would accompany marriage. Despite the long wait, in some instances, both spouses expressed the view that “neither was ready”.

While there is seeming reluctance to walk down the aisle, the Registrar General’s Department reported that 111,102 couples were married between 2012 and 2017. In 2012, 20,175 persons took the plunge. Upwards of 18,000 marriages were annually registered from 2013-2015, while more than 17,000 annually tied the knot in 2016 and 2017.

Claims to assets and asset-sharing were also raised as factors for the reluctance, even though the House of Representatives in 2004 passed the Family Property (Rights Of Spouses) Act ordering that property be shared equally if common-law unions go bust after five years or more.