Living Together Before Marriage? It’s Not So Bad After All
Cohabitation before marriage has become the norm. It has increased a whopping 900 percent since the 1960s. If you’re living with your significant other without being married, rest easy, my friend. New research says that cohabiting before marriage does not put couples at greater risk of divorce later on.
The study—conducted by Arielle Kuperberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro—found that there is no correlation between cohabiting before marriage and subsequent divorce. What might predict divorce in those who live together before marriage is the age at which they choose do so.
Kuperberg’s paper, published in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth from 1996-2010.
She explains her findings and says that couples who shack up before marriage tend to be younger, and because marrying at a young age increases the likelihood of divorce, it appeared in previous research that cohabitation did as well. But that’s not the case because once you control for the age variable, the correlation between divorce and cohabitation disappears. “The problem is that the couples are settling down at an earlier age, and settling down too young is what leads to divorce.”
So if the idea that living together before marriage leads to divorce isn’t correct, why do so many sociologists and researchers believe that it does? Kuperberg says that those earlier findings were a result of an incorrect measurement. For one thing, previous researchers didn’t run the numbers using age—they merely compared people who cohabited with people who married without living together first.
Also, researchers aren’t looking at the fact that “Americans of all classes are postponing marriage until their late twenties and thirties for two main reasons, one economic and the other cultural. Young adults are taking longer to finish their education and stabilize their work lives. Culturally, young adults have increasingly come to see marriage as a ‘capstone’ rather than a ‘cornerstone’—that is, something they do after they have all their other ducks in a row, rather than a foundation for launching into adulthood and parenthood.”
In an essay for The Atlantic last year, Karen Swallow Prior, explained her belief that marriage can be a formative institution, instead of one that both parties enter into once they have it all together. This may not be practical in today’s society. In previous generations, for example, women’s options were limited and part of the reason they got married was for economic security. Kuperberg’s study does not get into this, but I think it would be intriguing to examine whether a capstone marriage, along with cohabitation before, can actually improve the odds that a couple will stay married.
The bottom line is that cohabitation before marriage does not mean a marriage is doomed, and according to Kuperberg, it never did.
What do you think about living together before marriage? Is it a good or bad idea? Share your thoughts below.
Alexis Trass Walker lives in Gary, Indiana, with her husband and four children. She is managing editor of Good Enough Mother. Read more about Alexis on her blog www.lilliebelle.org or follow her on Twitter @LillieBelle5. You can email her at alexisnw16 [at] gmail [dot] com.