For years, scientists, religious leaders, and individuals have debated the merits of cohabitation before marriage. Studies dating back to the 1970s have held sociologists to the belief that cohabitation before marriage leads to higher divorce rates. But a new briefing paper by Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist from University of North Carolina, Greensboro, negates these conclusions.
Kuperberg’s study compared divorce rates of couples by the age that individuals moved in together. Previous studies compared divorce rates by the age of marriage. Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, Kuperberg concluded that living together before marriage does not cause divorce, but rather the age of the individuals moving in together correlates to divorce rates. The tipping point for choosing a partner who will stick for life, she notes, is around age 23.
It’s great news, because the number one reason couples choose to cohabitate instead of marry, is a fear of divorce. However, while cohabitation may not cause divorce, it does prevent marriage. Most people who cohabitate don’t ever get married, and if they have children, the majority break up before the kids reach twelve years of age, leaving the burden of single parenthood more often on the woman. It’s also interesting to note that the more education a couple has, the less likely they will be to cohabitate as higher education generally puts less financial pressure on a couple.
THE GENDER DIFFERENCE
Another thing to consider is the fact that women and men often have different goals when moving in together. Men generally see living with a woman as a fun, romantic, and sexy roommate situation. Women, on the other hand, tend to see cohabitation as an audition for marriage. The problem is that these goals aren’t often vocalized.
My advice to couples thinking of cohabitation is to first talk openly about future expectations. Then make an agreement together. After six months or one year, make a promise to sit down and talk honestly about how cohabitation is working for the both of you, and how your future expectations have or haven’t changed.
If you’re already in a cohabitating relationship, take the time to assess what your individual goals are for the future. Do you want to have a family? Are you yearning for the stability and financial security of a marriage? Are you committed to be with your partner for life, or for long enough to raise a family, or are they just a sexy roommate for this stage of your life? Then take the time to communicate your goals to your partner, and listen to their goals. If having a family is important to you and your partner doesn’t want one in the future, maybe it’s time to reassess who you’re living with.