Cohabitation Research

The following is a summary of key statistics from and organization called PREPARE-ENRICH, who specialize in premarital counseling and marital success. If you would like to see the full article and research references, it is listed at the bottom of this blog.

The bottom line is that Cohabitation, statistically, is very bad preparation for a healthy marriage and successful life.

Heterosexual couples cohabiting:
1970 - 500,000
2006 - 5,100,000

What reasons do couples give for cohabiting?
With the increasing number of years that most young adults are single and the
growing social acceptance of cohabitation, couples report several common reasons for cohabiting.
• Economic advantages: “We can save money by sharing living expenses.”
• Time together: “We are able to spend more time together.”
• Increased intimacy: “We have more opportunities to share sexual and emotional intimacy without getting married.”
• Less complicated dissolution: “If the relationship doesn’t work out, there is no messy divorce.”
• “Testing” compatibility: “Living together enables us to better learn about each other’s habits and character and see how we operate together day-to-day.”
• Trial Marriage: “We are planning to marry soon.”

How are Cohabiters different from married couples?
There are several characteristics that distinguish cohabiters from married couples and they include the following:
1. Cohabiting couples have lower levels of personal happiness and higher rates of
depression than married couples (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).
2. Cohabiters value independence more than married partners and have more individual
freedom (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).
3. Cohabiters are less likely to be supportive financially of one another than are married
partners (Waite & Gallagher, 2000).
4. Cohabiters have more negative attitudes about marriage than non-cohabiters (Axinn & Barber, 1997).

What are some characteristics of couples that cohabit?
• On PREPARE & ENRICH, cohabiting couples have significantly lower scores on most
categories (Olson, 2001).
• Couples living together have the lowest level of premarital satisfaction when compared to other living arrangements (Stewart & Olson, 1990; Olson, 2001).
• Marriages preceded by cohabitation are more likely to end in divorce (Popenoe &
Whitehead, 1999).
• Cohabiters have lower scores than non-cohabiters on religious behaviors, personal faith,church attendance and joint religious activities (Thorton, A., Axinn, W.G. & Hill, D.H.,1992).3
• Married couples that cohabitated prior to marriage have poorer communication skills indiscussing problems than couples that did not cohabit (Cohan & Kleinbaum, 2000).
• Cohabiting couples are less sexually committed or trustworthy
(Waite & Gallagher,2000).
• Cohabiting males are less involved in housework and childrearing
(Waite & Gallagher,2000).
• Cohabiting increases the risk of couple abuse and, if there are children, child abuse(Thompson, Hanson & McLanahan, 1994).

Does Cohabitation Contribute to Marital Failure?
Most research has focused on cohabitation’s negative effect on a future marriage.
The following are two possible explanations:
Lack of Commitment to Marriage:
One explanation is that while the basis for marriage is a strong ethic of commitment,
cohabiting couples are much more oriented toward their own personal autonomy and are more willing to terminate the relationship. It is easy to speculate that once this low-commitment, high autonomy pattern of relating is learned, it becomes hard to change (National Marriage Project,2000).

Inability to Make Decision about Marriage:
Cohabitation reflects uncertainty. As professor Pepper Schwartz explains, “I think there is something in the experience of cohabitation that makes it hard to know when is the time to make a choice, to change one way of living for another, and to say, yes, this person… is the one for me” (Schwartz, 2000).

Is cohabiting a good way to prepare for marriage?
Generally not. The social science evidence suggests that living together is not a good way to prepare for marriage or to avoid divorce. In fact, virtually all the major studies have shown a higher divorce rate among couples that cohabited before marriage than those who did not. No positive contribution of cohabitation to a successful marriage has been found to date.

It is important to note that cohabiting that is within 3-6 months before marriage is
different from cohabiting as an alternative to marriage. If a couple cohabits a few months before the wedding and if each partner has had no prior cohabitation experience and no children, then the adverse effects are not strongly supported in research (Popenoe & Whitehead, 1999).