For decades now, young couples have been warned about “playing house” and “shacking up” before marriage. Who would buy the cow when they can have the milk for free?
Critics of premarital cohabitation (or rather, couples living together before marriage) have long since pointed to a wealth of studies that associated cohabitation with elevated risks of divorce.
Well, new research claims that cohabitation no longer predicts divorce. In fact, there is a possibility that it never did in the first place. Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, co-authored the study titled “Does Premarital Cohabitation Increase Your Risk for Divorce?”
Kuperberg argues that while there is no correlation between divorce and cohabiting before marriage, what might predict divorce in those couples that cohabit before marriage is the age at which they decide to do so. Previous studies, she reports, consistently over-stated the risk of divorce because they did not factor in this crucial element.
“What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone–with or without a marriage license–before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship,” said Kuperberg.
“Early entry into marriage or cohabitation, especially prior to age 23, is the critical risk factor for divorce.”
Despite the social stigma around premarital cohabitation, 70 percent of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months.
Another premarital cohabitation study released in 2013 showed that the numbers are growing across racial and ethnic groups, except for Asian women. Between 1995 and 2006-2010, premarital cohabitations as a first union increased by 57% for Hispanic women, 43% for white women, and 39% for black women.
“Generations that were cohabitating less are now being replaced by a group of women and men that find cohabitation to be quite normal,” said demographer Casey Copen, the study’s lead author.
“Overall, these unions are lasting longer, they’re more stable and the highest proportion of them transition to marriage.”