There are numerous statistics, studies, and facts about cohabiting couples and many tend to conclude that those who cohabitate are at a higher risk for divorce. However, 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. Take a look at some research and information to help couples make the best choice for themselves and their future.
Couples who live together seem to have the most successful outcomes when they have already made a clear commitment to each other. The decision to cohabit with your significant other depends on you both as a couple.
Evaluate 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 a prelude to marriage?
- 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.
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 who would otherwise not have married sort of slide slowly 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 slip less conscientiously into a major relationship commitment while others make more thought out and intentional decisions. 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.
When Children Are Involved
Children born to cohabiting parents see their parents break up more often than do children born to married parents. In this way, being born into a cohabiting family sets the stage for later instability, and children who are born to cohabiting parents appear to experience enduring deficits of psychosocial wellbeing. On the other hand, stable cohabiting families with two biological parents seem to offer many of the same health, cognitive, and behavioral benefits that stable married biological parent families provide.
According to the National Center for Family and Marriage Research:
Cohabitation has become a typical pathway to family formation in the United States. The share of young and middle-aged Americans who have cohabited has doubled in the past 25 years. Today the vast majority (66 percent) of married couples have lived together before they walk down the aisle. In 2013, about 5 million (or 7 percent) of children were living in cohabiting parent families. By age 12, 40 percent of children had spent some time living with parents who were cohabiting.
- Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.
- Just over 50 percent 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.
- When evaluating relationships, couples who lived together before marriage tended 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.
- Compared with those who were married or unmarried and not cohabiting, cohabiting women and men were more likely to have no high school diploma or GED.
- 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.
Manning WD. Cohabitation and Child Wellbeing. Future Child. 2015;25(2):51-66.
Nugent C, Daugherty J. A Demographic, Attitudinal, and Behavioral Profile of Cohabiting Adults in the United States, 2011–2015. National Health Statistics Report. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 2018.