What We Know About People Who Live Together Before Marriage

A walk down the aisle doesn’t always have to be the endgame

Updated 09/11/18

Stocksy

For many people, just moving in together is a huge relationship milestone. Who says the ultimate goal for two people who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together has to be marriage? I would be happy if my longtime boyfriend, whom I’ve shared a home with for more than three years, could remember to close the cabinets in the kitchen when he’s packing his lunch in the morning. By the time he leaves for work, our kitchen often looks like we’ve been robbed.

More and more Americans are choosing to live with their boos before getting married. Between 1987 and 2010, the number of women between the ages of 19-44 who lived with a partner before their first marriage increased by 82 percent. What researchers don’t know, however, is just how these people, dubbed cohabiters by academics, compare to people who are married or living on their own. That’s what a new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released this summer aimed to investigate.

“Cohabitation,” the study’s authors write in a paper published in National Health Statistics Reports, “is currently the most common first co-residential union among young adults.” To get a better understanding of their demographics and attitudes about sexual behavior, living together, marriage and more, they analyzed data taken from interviews with 8,292 women and 6,674 men aged 18–44 who were sexually experienced; this information was gathered between 2011 and 2015.

Overall, they found that about 17 percent of women and 16 percent of men were currently cohabiting at the time. Nearly half of them were younger than 35. Compared to married couples and those who did not live together, cohabiters were generally less educated and made less money: A quarter had a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to four in 10 women who were married or living without their partner.

People who lived together were also more likely to be black or Hispanic, have lost their virginity before 18, have gotten unintentionally pregnant, and cite divorce as “usually the best solution when a couple can’t seem to work out their marriage problems.”

Taken out of context, these results appear pretty grim. But it’s important to remember that oftentimes living together is a stepping stone—offering the opportunity for a person to save money and/or seek out better career options—in the path of life toward marriage. Also, in addition to shedding more light on the demographics and opinions of people who decide to share a mailing address before sharing a last name—hello, it’s me!—this CDC study really reveals just how much the definition of family has changed in the last few decades.

Unmarried people who live together can thrive in the same way that married people often do, said Jessy Warner-Cohen, a health psychologist in New York. She told HealthDay: "If people who cohabit are on the same page and have shared values and goals, they probably have the same benefits that married people do.”

Besides, if Oprah and Stedman, Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, and Bert and Ernie have taught us anything, it’s that you don’t necessarily have to get married to live happily ever after.

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