Sometimes life happens, and two individuals cannot immediately commit. This is where living together can come in. Living together as a couple (i.e., cohabiting) allows you to test out your relationship before committing to marriage (keep reading to find out what the data is around cohabiting). The question becomes: should you get married? If so, when? Is being married more stable than just living together forever? Whether you are considering cohabiting or you are already a cohabitant, we’ve got the key findings on marriage and cohabiting that will help you find the optimal relationship for you and your loved one.
What do cohabitation and marriage even mean?
Cohabitation is a term used to describe couples who live together and share a domestic life. It differs from marriage and domestic partnerships because there are no legal benefits or state/federal recognition. In other words, you and your boyfriend or girlfriend live together while not married.
As you probably know, marriage is defined as a social union or legal contract between people that creates kinship. It is also popularly used to describe a romantic/sexual relationship between partners in a family. While it’s true that marriage in most societies is principally considered an institution in which two people create a household and divide the work of living together, this definition doesn’t come close to expressing what marriage really means.
Why do people cohabit?
Living together might be a good way to test the waters of marriage while splitting the costs of rent, utilities, and groceries. It can also help you see if you are compatible in terms of sharing space and calling the same place home.
On the other hand, the downside of cohabiting is you won’t receive any health insurance, tax, or other employment benefits as you would in a traditional marital union. There is also something called the “Cohabitation Effect“—this term stems from various research suggesting that couples who live together before walking down the aisle tend to be less satisfied with their marriage and, therefore, more prone to divorce. You might also get some backlash from family or friends for living together premaritally.
Let’s talk about cold, hard numbers. When deciding to move in together or get married, what are the typical reasons behind the decision? According to research that surveyed thousands of people, the number one response for reasons to cohabit was love and companionship. Aww, how sweet! For about 40% of cohabiters, they said it’s because of finances and convenience. Very practical!
Why do people get married?
Marriage is recognized in all 50 states for both heterosexual marriages and same-sex marriages. There are many benefits to walking down the aisle. For starters, if you are legally married, you can apply to sponsor your spouse for U.S. permanent residency (think: 90-Day Fiance). Next up, your loved one is allowed to be added to your health insurance plan and can be protected by it. Additionally, you and your soon-to-be spouse can create a prenuptial agreement together prior to your wedding. If you’re still not convinced about getting hitched, take a look at this statistic. According to scientific evidence, married people live longer! What more evidence do you need to pop the question? (More reasons to get married here).
Reasons why people may not be getting married: planning a wedding can be expensive and stressful, you might enter a higher tax bracket as a married couple, and the idea of divorce is daunting! Many people seem to be disagreeing with these notions because the number of people getting hitched these days has been increasing since the ’60s!
Those are some nice ideas, but what are the factual numbers behind why people get married? Similar to their cohabiting friends, married people also cite the number one reason for marriage as love and companionship. How romantic! On the other hand, 13% of married folks said finances were the reason they wed, and 10% said convenience drove their decision. Interesting!
Should we cohabit before marriage?
That is up to you, but most Americans say that couples who live together before getting married will likely have a successful marriage compared to those who don’t cohabit. In fact, nearly 78% of young adults ages 18 to 29 are saying cohabitation is completely normal, even if the couple doesn’t eventually marry. A strong majority of Americans (a staggering 66%) even see cohabitation as a step toward marriage.
That’s what the people say, but let’s talk about science. Remember that old stat that said if you live together before marriage, you have a higher chance of divorce? Well, it may be outdated. A published sociological study was conducted in 2018 to analyze premarital cohabitation. The outcome was quite groundbreaking. Cohabiting before marriage is actually linked to a lesser likelihood of divorce in the first year of marriage but a higher risk later on. The first year’s success is explained by people already being adapted to their spouse’s living habits. However, the long-term costs of marital stability are still affected.
Don’t start sweating just yet—another study came out the same year (2018) and said the exact opposite! That’s right, it found cohabitation leads to less divorce overall. Phew! Since the year 2000, living together before marriage, divorce rates have completely reversed since the 50s and are now linked to a lower rate of divorce. In fact, women that married before cohabiting were actually a minority of the population. Another interesting fact from this study was that college-educated spouses have lower rates of divorce.
Satisfaction and Stability in a relationship
According to a 2019 Pew Research study, they surveyed 5,579 married people and 880 unmarried, cohabiting people living with their partner. The results? Married people have a greater level of satisfaction and trust than cohabiting people. For example, married people were more likely (78%) to say they feel closer to their spouse than any other person compared to 55% of cohabiters. Married people were also more satisfied with their partner’s approach to parenting, the way household chores were divided, work and personal life balance, communication, and sex life.
Turning to the unfortunate topic of adultery: do you think married adults or cohabiting adults are more likely to cheat in their relationships? According to this study and this study, cohabiting adults are more likely to stray from their partners. In fact, this study noted that cohabiting had nearly twice the risk of cheating as marriage. This makes sense since married folks have more on the line – joint finances, children, and the potential pitfall of divorce.
What about children? Children of cohabiting parents tend to be less stable than married families. Research from 2017 found that children of cohabiting parents are more likely (a whopping 90% more) to split than married parents. This data is the same across the United States and Europe. In addition, children of married parents are more likely to grow up watching their parents place high importance on their relationship than children of cohabiting parents. Notably, children are more likely to thrive when their parents are in stable relationships than not.
How long are people cohabiting before marriage nowadays?
This study found that people living under the same roof while unmarried are doing so longer than ever before. The average length of time people cohabit now is about 18 months. It used to be 12 months back in the ’80s. A longer duration has also been found to be associated with delaying or forgoing marriage altogether. Another study in the United Kingdom found that couples actually lived together for 22 months before getting engaged.
How about how long people dated before cohabiting? This study found that couples dated for almost one and a half years before moving in together. For same sex partners, it’s much quicker. They tend to move in together within six months, according to this article.
Trends in Cohabiting and Marriage in the United States
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, way back in the late ’60s, cohabiting was unheard of—in fact, 0.1% of 18 to 24-year-old and 0.2% of 25 to 34-year-old United States residents cohabited while not married. Compare that to now: 9% of 18 to 24-year-old and 15% of 25 to 34-year-old people are cohabiting with an unmarried partner. That’s an increase of about 1400%!
Accordingly, there is a record high of United States citizens that have never been married. Several factors lead to this rate. According to the Institute for Family (IFS), these factors include the decline of employment rates, female preference for a partner with a stable job, politics, and religion. This doesn’t mean that people are never going to marry; it’s just that they’re marrying later. But there is also an increase in people choosing to never marry; 25% of young adults may ever marry.
This trend could have something to do with the fact that multiple studies from back in the day connected cohabitation with a higher risk of divorce. It may also have something to do with the fact that societal beliefs were different back then – cohabiting was more of a taboo thing to do, and so was divorce!
What about the marriage trends? Can you take a guess? Yep, you got it—on the decline! A study from Pew Research showed that, compared to the late ’70s, people are getting married way less. In 1978, about 59% of people ages 18 to 34 were married. Nowadays, about 30% of people in the same age range are married! Marriage rates were nearly double back in 1978! With all the student loans, expensive mortgage rates, longer life spans, and even the pandemic, it makes sense that people aren’t jumping into marriage right away.
Some exciting news is that divorce in the United States is on the decline. You would think that with COVID-19, divorces would be at an all-time high. Nope! It’s quite the opposite. The Institute for Family Studies (IFS) explained, “this is the lowest rate we have seen in 50 years.” A new survey found that the pandemic actually made marriages stronger. I guess that two year long quarantine didn’t destroy every relationship known to man like we all thought! The survey found that the pandemic made them cherish their spouse even more. That makes much more sense.
We’ve mostly just been covering United States trends. Let’s turn to some global statistics. Central and South America have the highest number of couples living together while not married. Nearly 50% of childbearing-age adults are living together, unmarried. In comparison to Europe and North America where only about 33% of couples are cohabiting. The lowest area of cohabitation is Africa.
How a Prenup Can Help
Statistics aside, what matters is you have a secure, healthy relationship. Whether it’s cohabitation or marriage, as long as you and your partner are secure, then that is all that matters. You are more than just a statistic; whatever works for your relationship is what you should focus on.
If you decide marriage will be part of your journey, you should start thinking about a prenup. As you can see from the statistics above, divorce is prevalent, albeit on the decline. Prenuptial agreements are created to protect you and your spouse in the case of a divorce or even death. A prenup is only activated if you and your partner divorce–no harm, no foul. The process of divorce is already grueling; the last thing you need is to fight over every little thing, like alimony and property division. A prenup already has those things decided for you. By creating a prenuptial agreement before you get married, you help keep things as stress-free as possible. Another added benefit of a prenup is that it can help facilitate an even stronger bond between you and your future spouse by forcing you to be transparent about financial, marital, and life goals.
Nicole Sheehey is the Head of Legal Content at HelloPrenup, and an Illinois licensed attorney. She has a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to prenuptial agreements. Nicole has Juris Doctor from John Marshall Law School. She has a deep understanding of the legal and financial implications of prenuptial agreements, and enjoys writing and collaborating with other attorneys on the nuances of the law. Nicole is passionate about helping couples locate the information they need when it comes to prenuptial agreements. You can reach Nicole here: [email protected]