America’s Attitude Towards Cohabiting Before Marriage Has Shifted

Fifty years ago, cohabitating with one’s significant other before marriage was described in pejorative terms and often thought of as immoral.

Today the picture is quite different. Living together prior to getting hitched has increased 1500% since the 1960s, and 30% in just the last decade. While almost half of Americans disapproved of the arrangement in 1981, a quarter-century later that number fell to 27%. Today, 2/3 of new marriages are preceded by cohabitation.

Conflicting Studies

The Journal of Marriage and Family published a new study with a somewhat disturbing finding: Couples who lived together before marriage had a lower divorce rate in their first year of marriage, but had a higher divorce rate after five years.

However, just two weeks later, the Council on Contemporary Families, which is a nonprofit at the University of Texas at Austin, published a report with the exact opposite conclusion: Premarital cohabitation seemed to make couples less likely to divorce. From the 1950s through 1970, “those who were willing to transgress strong social norms to cohabit … were also more likely to transgress similar social norms about divorce,” wrote the author, Arielle Kuperberg, a sociology professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. But as the rate of premarital cohabitation ballooned to some 70 percent, “its association with divorce faded. In fact, since 2000, premarital cohabitation has actually been associated with a lower rate of divorce, once factors such as religiosity, education, and age at co-residence are accounted for.”

It’s not unusual for studies to conflict – what is interesting about this one is that they came to different conclusions analyzing the same data. A reasonable conclusion then, is that living together first is not a reliable indicator of whether the couple will get a divorce later in life. Other factors must be considered.

Age Matters

The study from the Council on Contemporary Families suggested that age is a factor. The research found that the age couples decided to get married or move in together mattered more than that they chose to live together before getting married. Essentially, the study found that couples that moved in together before the age of 23 had a greater likelihood of divorce.

The Reason You Move in Together Is Perhaps the Most Significant Factor

The reason you move in together can make a difference. For some people, it’s the next step in their relationship, for others it’s the allure of a smaller rent payment, and for still others it’s a matter of convenience. In an op-ed she wrote for The New York Times in 2012, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now, wrote that she has had clients who’ve come to her saying that there wasn’t ever a conscious decision to move in together, it just sort of happened, and now they’re realizing they’re unhappy.

Moving in for the wrong reasons can cause you to settle. Moving in together takes effort. You have to combine your belongings, perhaps buy new furniture, split bills, and more. Not only that, but some couples who’ve lived together choose to get pets together, which intertwines your lives even more. In her aforementioned op-ed for The New York Times, Jay wrote, “Too often, young adults enter into what they imagine will be low-cost, low-risk living situations only to find themselves unable to get out months, even years, later. It’s like signing up for a credit card with 0 percent interest. At the end of 12 months when the interest goes up to 23 percent you feel stuck because your balance is too high to pay off.” Once your lives become increasingly shared, it can not only be difficult to leave if nothing is obviously wrong, but some couples also just choose to get married. Again, it kind of just… happens. Researchers call this the “inertia effect.”

Divorces have many difficult aspects, which is why you need an experienced attorney on your side. Chad Foster is a trusted Washington lawyer serving Snohomish and King counties with an office in Bothell. Contact us today to discuss your legal issue.

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