Study co-authors Sharon Sassler, professor at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., Dela Kusi-Appouh, a Cornell doctoral student, and colleagues at the University of Central Oklahoma suggest the reason the United States is at an all-time low of married people is they fear divorce.
About 67 percent of the study's respondents who were cohabiting admitted to concerns of the social, legal, emotional and economic consequences of a divorce.
However, there is a difference among those with higher incomes and lower incomes.
Middle-class subjects spoke more favorably about tying the knot and viewed cohabitation as a natural stepping stone to marriage compared with their lower-income, working-class counterparts, Sassler said.
However, the study, published in the journal Family Relations, found lower-income women disproportionately expressed doubts about being trapped in a marriage because they fear it could be hard to exit or it would lead to additional domestic responsibilities and chores but few benefits.
In addition, lower-income women were twice as likely to admit fears about being stuck in marriage with no way out once they were relying on their partner's share of income.
Working-class cohabitating couples were also more apt to view marriage as "just a piece of paper," the study said.