There are numerous statistics, studies, and facts about cohabiting couples. Many tend to conclude that those who cohabitate are at a higher risk for divorce. Deciding whether to live together without ever getting married or live together to "road-test" marriage is a very individualized choice. Taking a look at the pros and cons is helpful so that you can make the most informed decision for you.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports:
"Cohabitation, once rare, is now the norm: The researchers found that more than half (54 percent) of all first marriages between 1990 and 1994 began with unmarried cohabitation. They estimate that a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship.
"...Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages and that instability is increasing"
- Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.
- Just over 50% of first cohabiting couples ever get married.
- In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.
- Couples who lived together before marriage tend to divorce early in their marriage. If their marriage lasts seven years, then their risk for divorce is the same as couples who didn't cohabit before marriage.
- Cohabiting couples had a separation rate five times that of married couples and a reconciliation rate that was one-third that of married couples.
- Cohabiting couples are more likely to experience infidelity.
- Compared to those planning to marry, those cohabiting have an overall poorer relationship quality. They tend to have more fighting and violence and less reported happiness.
- Cohabiting couples earn less money and are less wealthy than their married peers later in life.
- Compared to married individuals, those cohabiting have higher levels of depression and substance abuse.
Facts You Rarely Hear About
- In France and Germany cohabiting couples have a slightly lower risk of divorce.
- If cohabitation is limited to a person's future spouse and there are plans to marry, there is no elevated risk of divorce.
- In the U.S., cohabiting couples taking premarital education courses or counseling are not at a higher risk for divorce.
The decision to cohabit with your significant other depends on you both as a couple. It is not a good idea to ignore several patterns and problems with the concept first. You truly need to think about your motivation for living together. Is it just out of convenience? Is it to spend more time together? Are you uncertain about the relationship and want to make a more informed decision? Or, is it just a prelude to marriage? Keep in mind that couples who live together seem to have the most successful outcomes when they have already made a clear commitment to each other.
Engaged couples need to be aware of the "inertia effect." It tends to become more difficult to break up because of your greater investment in the relationship over time. What happens is that a couple that would otherwise not have married sort of slowly slide into marriage anyway. Those who live together with the goal of marriage are not at risk, just those without a clear direction about commitment.
Sliding vs. Deciding to Marry
Some couples "slide" less conscientiously through major relationship transitions, while others make more thought out and intentional decisions about moving through them. The couples who do the latter fare better in the long run. The unintentional decision to slide into marriage, such as after living together, is where one or both partners find themselves agreeing to tie the knot because getting married seems like the next “logical” step. This is often an unwise way to make what is supposed to be a lifelong commitment like marriage.
In conclusion, cohabitation may be right for some people under the right circumstances. The couple should look at the facts (and myths), be on the same page as to why they want to cohabitate and what their expectations are for doing so. Luckily we have some solid research and information to help couples make the best choice for themselves and their future.
Marriage, a History: from Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage by Stephanie Coontz
Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women by Jay Teachman
Does Cohabitation Protect Against Divorce? by Glenn T. Stanton
Toward a Greater Understanding of the Cohabitation Effect: Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Communication by Catherine L. Cohan and Stacey Kleinbaumb
Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Stability by Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu and David de Vaus
Cohabitation vs. Marriage: How Love's Choices Shapes Life's Outcome on FamilyFacts.org
The Hidden Risk of Cohabitation by Dr. Scott Stanley
Should You Move in Together or Not? by Dr. Theresa di Donato