Cohabiting before marriage doesn’t make unions last

Couples who
live together before they get married are less likely to stay married, a new
study has found. But their chances improve if they were already engaged when
they began living together.

The likelihood
that a marriage would last for a decade or more decreased by six percentage
points if the couple had cohabited first, the study found.

The study of
men and women ages 15 to 44 was done by the National Center for Health
Statistics using data
from the National Survey of Family Growth conducted in 2002. The authors define cohabitation
as people who live with a sexual partner of the opposite sex.

“From the
perspective of many young adults, marrying without living together first seems
quite foolish,” said Prof. Pamela J. Smock,
a research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “Just because some academic
studies have shown that living together may increase the chance of divorce
somewhat, young adults themselves don’t believe that.”

The authors
found that the proportion of women in their late 30s who had ever cohabited had
doubled in 15 years, to 61 per cent.

Half of
couples who cohabit marry within three years, the study found. If both partners
are college graduates, the chances improve that they will marry and that their
marriage will last at least 10 years.

“The figures
suggest to me that cohabitation is still a pathway to marriage for many college
graduates, while it may be an end in itself for many less educated women,” said
Kelly A. Musick,
a professor of policy analysis and management at Cornell.

Couples who
marry after age 26 or have a baby eight months or more after marrying are also
more likely to stay married for more than a decade.

is increasingly becoming the first co-residential union formed among young
adults,” the study said.

By the
beginning of the last decade, a majority of births to unmarried women were to
mothers who were living with the child’s father. Just two decades earlier, only
a third of those births were to cohabiting couples.

The study
found that, overall, 62 per cent of women ages 25 to 44 were married and eight
per cent were cohabiting. Among men, the comparable figures were 59 per cent
and 10 per cent.

In general,
one in five marriages will dissolve within five years. One in three will last
less than 10 years. Those figures varied by race, ethnicity and sex. The
likelihood of black men and women remaining married for 10 years or more was 50
percent. The probability for Hispanic men was the highest, 75 percent. Among
women, the odds are 50-50 that their marriage will last less than 20 years.

The survey
found that about 28 per cent of men and women had cohabitated before their
first marriage and that about seven per cent lived together and never married.
About 23 percent of women and 18 percent of men married without having lived together.

Women who were
not living with both of their biological or adoptive parents at 14 were less
likely to be married and more likely to be cohabiting than those who grew up
with both parents.

The share who
had ever married varied markedly by race and ethnicity: 63 per cent of white
women, 39 per cent of black women and 58 per cent of Hispanic women. Among men
in that age group, the differences were less striking. Fifty-three per cent of
white men, 42 per cent of black men and 50 per cent of Hispanic men were married
or had been previously married at the time of the survey.

By their early
40s, most white and Hispanic men and women were married, but only 44 per cent
of black women were.