Over the years, it's become far more common for couples to live together before getting married. A Census Bureau report from last year found that between 1967 and 2014, the share of Americans over 18 living with an unmarried partner went from virtually zero to nearly one tenth, while the proportion of those living with a spouse declined from around 70 to 50 percent. But according to a new study in Demography, living together is less likely to lead to marriage than it used to be.
The researchers analyzed National Study of Family Growth data from 1995 and 2006-10 to illuminate how exactly couples' living patterns and relationships have changed throughout the years. They found that couples who live together are more likely to break up and less likely to walk down the aisle now than they were in the 1990s.
The reason why becomes clearer when the data is broken down by population. The trend, it turns out, only applies to those without a college education. And that's not because those with lower education levels don't want to get hitched. They actually hope to get married just as much as anyone else. Rather, couples may be breaking up and refraining from marriage due to financial obstacles, Kelly Raley, a University of Texas sociology professor who coauthored the study, told us.
"One likely set of issues is low wages and unstable employment, more common for people without a college degree," she said. While some policymakers want to increase marriage rates by encouraging people to get married, she explained, that probably won't work if couples can't even afford it.
This also may explain why fewer millennials are getting married overall. In a Pew Research survey, 27 percent of millennials said they hadn't gotten married yet because they weren't financially stable enough. So the decrease in the marriage rate may have less to do with commitment-phobia than stereotype might have it—and more to do with the fact that millennials are making less money than any other generation.
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