The Effects of Cohabitation on Future Marriage Success

Topics: Marriage, Cohabitation, Alimony Pages: 6 (2251 words) Published: November 9, 2013
Over the course of the last half-century, living together before marriage has gone from rare and heavily stigmatized to normal and commonplace. At the same time, divorce rates have more than doubled, going from 20-25% of all marriages ending in divorce in the 1950’s and ‘60’s, to almost 50% today. Many couples, particularly young couples, believe that by cohabiting before marriage, they will be better able to choose a compatible marriage partner, and go into the marriage with a more accurate view of how they and their partner will solve conflict, divide responsibility, and how compatible they are both emotionally and sexually. However, most studies have found that couples that cohabit before marriage are more likely to get a divorce within the first ten years of marriage. Researchers are divided as to whether cohabitation itself is to blame for the increase in divorce rates, or whether other factors, such as socio-economic status, childhood family life, or level of education that are statistical factors for divorce are the same factors that lead to a predilection for premarital cohabitation. Using studies from the last ten years, this paper will argue that as cohabitation becomes societally normalized the likelihood of divorce will correlatively decrease, and that cohabitation on its own does not contribute to an unsuccessful or unstable future marriage. For the purposes of this paper, there will be two limitations on the studies and data collections used. The paper will focus only on studies on heterosexual couples, as legal same-sex marriage is too new for any meaningful data sets to have been accumulated. Additionally, the study will only look at couples that cohabit with the eventual goal of getting married, as opposed to couples that consider legal marriage to be unnecessary or undesirable in their union. Most studies presented thus far have shown a strong positive correlation between cohabitation and eventual dissolution of marriage. One study, published by the National Council on Family Relations (Dush, Cohan & Amato, 2003), offered two perspectives on why this may be the case. One perspective which is widely viewed as being a large contributing factor to this positive correlation is selection, that “people who cohabit before marriage differ from noncohabitors and that these differences increase the likelihood of poor marital quality and divorce” (p. 540). Factors that may have an impact include a “low level of education, being poor, growing up with divorced parents, holding non-traditional attitudes toward marriage, or being nonreligious” (p.540). These factors appear to be particularly statistically significant in studies on couples that cohabited prior to 1990, as cohabitation before then was far less common and considered nonnormative by general society. Therefore, the risk factors for divorce would have been inextricably linked to the factors of likelihood of cohabitation. However, as premarital cohabitation becomes more and more commonplace, with an estimated 68% of marriages that took place between the 1997 and 2001 beginning with cohabitation (Copen, Daniels, Vespa & Mosher, 2012, p. 2), and societal acceptance of cohabitation increasing, with one poll showing only 43% believing premarital cohabitation was a bad thing, with 54% of respondents believing it was either a good thing or made no difference (Pew Research, 2010), the impact of the selection perspective should be predicted to decrease. However, this prediction was somewhat disproved by Copen, et al., as when they controlled for these selection factors, “although the gap in the odds of divorce between cohabitors and noncohabitors narrowed after controlling for the demographic selection factors, the relationship between cohabitation and divorce remained significant” (p. 545). The second perspective that has been posited is the experience of cohabitation perspective, which states that “cohabitation itself increases the likelihood of marital dysfunction...

Cited: Copen, C.E., Daniels, K., Vespa, J., & Mosher, W.D. (2012). First Marriages in the United States: Data from the 2006-2010 National Survey for Family Growth. National Health Statistics Reports (49), 1-11.
Dush, C.M., Cohan, C.L., & Amato, P.R. (2003). The Relationship between Cohabitation and Marriage Quality and Stability: Change across Cohorts? Journal of Marriage and Family, 65(3), 539-549.
Pew Research Center. (2010). The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families: A Social and Demographic Trends Report. Washington, DC.
Stanley, S.M., Rhoades, G.K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding versus Deciding: Inertian and the Premarital Cohabitation Effect. Family Relations, 55(4), 499-509.
Svarer, M. (2004). Is Your Love in Vain? Another Look at Premarital Cohabitation and Divorce. The Journal of Human Resources, 39(2), 523-535.
De Vaus, D., Qu, L. & Weston, R. (2005). The Disappearing Link between Premarital
Cohabitation and Subsequent Marital Stability, 1970-2001. Journal of Population Research,
22(2), 99-118.
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