More American singles are choosing to cohabitate—instead of marring, before marrying and after divorcing. Beyond the supposed benefits of shared rent and the immediate gratification of sex, research shows that cohabitation is detrimental to successful relationships for adults and especially harmful for children.
Cohabitation threatens marital success.
If you desire to eventually marry, you should know that living together before marriage increases the risk of breaking up after marriage.
• A 1997 study concluded that “cohabitation increased young people’s acceptance of divorce, but other independent living experiences did not.”1
• It also found that “the more months of exposure to cohabitation that young people experienced, the less enthusiastic they were toward marriage and childbearing.”2
• After five to seven years, 39% of all cohabiting couples have broken up, 40% have married (but the marriage may already be over), and only 21% are still cohabiting.3
• No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found.4
Cohabitation involves physical risk for women and children.
Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of domestic violence for women, and the risk of physical and sexual abuse for children.
• Studies find that women in cohabiting relationships experience violent aggression at two to five times the rate that married women do. In fact, a group of researchers concluded that marriage inhibits violence.5
• Cohabiting parents break up at much higher rates than married parents.6
• The majority of evidence suggests that the most unsafe of all family environments for children is that in which the mother is living with someone other than the child’s biological father. This is the environment for the majority of children in cohabiting couple households.7
Cohabitation is detrimental to emotional and relational health.
Unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and wellbeing than married couples.
• Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples.8
• Especially when it is not preceded by cohabitation, marriage is associated with a significant and substantive reduction in depression.9
• Those couples who cohabited were more negative and less positive when resolving marital problems and when providing support to their partner compared to couples who did not cohabit previous to marriage, according to one study.10
1 David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, “Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know about Cohabitation before Marriage,” The National Marriage Project, (Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, 2002), p. 5.
2 Popenoe and Whitehead, 2002, p. 5.
3 Popenoe and Whitehead, 2002, p. 6.
4 Popenoe and Whitehead, 2002, p. 5.
5 Mike and Harriet McManus, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. (New York: Howard Books, 2008), p. 42.
6 McManus, 2008, p. 41.
7 Popenoe and Whitehead, 2002, p. 8.
8 Popenoe and Whitehead, 2002, p. 7.
9 www.cohabiting.org, “Psychological Reasons,” (28 April 2008).
10 McManus, 2008, p. 72.
Jenny Tyree is a marriage analyst for CitizenLink, an affiliate of Focus on the Family.