Cohabitation has been a hot topic of conversation for many years. In the 60s and 70s very few couples lived together before marriage. Today, more than 60 percent of couples cohabit before marrying. Numerous reputable studies, however, find that couples who cohabit prior to marriage significantly increase their risk for divorce.
In April 2012, a New York Times piece addressed the downside of cohabitation. It said that couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to have less-satisfying marriages — and are more likely to divorce — than couples who live apart before marriage. Researchers call these negative outcomes “the cohabitation effect.”
Prior to the NYT piece, the March 2012 Christian Science Monitor touted “new research” that was part of a Centers for Disease Control survey of 22,000 men and women, focusing on marriage and divorce and what makes a good marriage. It suggested that times have changed from when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later. The study’s lead author, Casey Copen, says that cohabitation plays a smaller role in predicting divorce than it used to.
So does cohabitation harm your chances of marriage? Does it increase the risk of divorce?
“I would tell people to hit the pause button before they run out and encourage friends to start shacking up,” says Glenn Stanton, author of The Ring Makes All the Difference: The Hidden Consequences of Cohabitation and the Strong Benefits of Marriage. “A wealth of data suggests that the significant negative impact of cohabiting has not disappeared into the ozone.”
Stanton points out that the Christian Science Monitor did not cite a study on cohabitation. Instead, it cited a study examining first marriages in the United States.
“This is only one study in a long, impressive and robust body of research showing that cohabitation is generally associated with greater divorce risk in marriage,” Stanton says. “In fact, the study actually acknowledges that it has been well-documented that women and men who cohabit with their future spouse are more likely to divorce compared with the non-cohabiting marrieds.”
Stanton cites a particular study about cohabitation’s negative impact on both marital quality and marital longevity. The negative impact did not wane as cohabitation has gained social acceptance.
But does “social acceptance” mean that living together before marriage is a positive thing?
For example, smoking cigarettes was not only socially acceptable in the past. In fact, it was the cool thing to do for years. Then research revealed that smoking, and even second-hand smoke, causes lung cancer. While not everybody who smokes gets lung cancer, the risk was great enough to make people think twice.
If a lifelong, healthy marriage is your goal, consider the evidence. There is more than enough of it to support that living together before marriage may put your relationship at risk.