Cohabitation: Effects of Cohabitation on the Men and Women Involved – Part 1 of 2

American College of Pediatricians – March 2015

ABSTRACT: Contrary to the current perception of many adolescents and young adults who view cohabitation as a substitute for marriage or as a stepping stone to a more secure marriage, studies show that cohabiting unions are more likely to dissolve than marriages and that marriages preceded by cohabitation are more likely to dissolve than marriages that were not preceded by cohabitation.  Cohabiting unions are more likely to involve infidelity and also more likely to involve violence.  Furthermore, children, whether born prior to, during, or after parental cohabitation, are at increased risk for negative sequelae including premature birth, school failure, lower education, more poverty during childhood and lower incomes as adults, more incarceration and behavior problems, single parenthood, medical neglect and chronic health problems both medical and psychiatric, more substance, alcohol and tobacco abuse, and child abuse.  Cohabiting women are also more likely to choose to end their child’s life prior to birth.

Incidence and Attitudes

Cohabitation has increased exponentially in the US over the last few decades.  From 1987 to 2002, the number of women aged 35-39 who had ever cohabitated increased from 30% to 61%.  More young people are first cohabitating than first marrying.[1]

IncidenceCohabitation onlyCohabitation then marriageMarriage without prior cohabitation
Men15%28%18%
Women15%28%23%

In addition, the percent of cohabitating couples who married in the subsequent 3 years decreased from 60% in the 1970’s to about 33% in the 1990’s.[2]    A survey of unmarried 15-19 year olds in 2006-8 showed the following:[3]

 Percent Approval
Cohabitation66%
Unwed pregnancy67%
Divorce for difficult marriages40-44%

By 2001, one study of college students revealed that over half either “agreed” or “mostly agreed” that it is a good idea for couples to live together before they get married to make sure that they can get along in a domestic situation.[4] However studies demonstrate the opposite.

Cohabitation Puts Future Marriage at Risk

The cohabitation relationship itself seems to be fraught with problems. Individuals entering a cohabitating relationship generally know their partner for a shorter period of time prior to moving in than their married peers.[5]  Men in cohabiting relationships work less hours than those who are married and are nearly twice as likely to be unemployed (15% vs. 8%).[6]

Women who cohabitate first are about two thirds as likely to marry by age 25 and remain less likely to marry until after age 35 compared to women who did not cohabitate.  This is also true to a lesser degree for men, but the differential disappears after age 30. Cohabitation before marriage is associated with lower marital satisfaction, dedication, and confidence as well as increased negative communication[7] with couples spending less time together[8] and men spending more time on personal leisure[9]; there is more violence and a higher rate of divorce.

Violence

Women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.[10] Kenney and McLanahan studied violence among couples who had begun cohabiting or had married up to 5 years earlier.

Incidence of Violence

Married, stayed marriedMarried, then separated or divorcedCohabitated, stayed cohabitatingCohabitated, then marriedCohabitated, then separated
15.5%31.1%35.3%21.9%42.6%

Thus among unions that dissolved, violence was a third more common among those who cohabited, and it was over twice as common among those remain cohabiting compared to those who remained married.  Even among those who married in the interim, the couples who had begun by cohabiting had a third more violence than those continually married.[11] Yllo and Straus found that severe violence was nearly 4 times higher among cohabiters than among those married.[12]

Dissolution of Relationship/Divorce

The percent of cohabitating couples who later married decreased from 60% in 1970’s to about 33% in 1990’s.[13] Dash, et al. found that even when controlling for risks associated with higher divorce rates including race, income, education, welfare receipt, second marriage and parental divorce, there was no change in the 50% increased risk of divorce associated with premarital cohabitation, nor did this risk decline as cohabitation became more socially acceptable.  They theorized that the cohabitation experience itself decreased marital stability through promoting individual desires over the interdependence associated with marriage.[14]  More recently, it has been asserted that premarital cohabitation commenced after 1996 leads to no increase in the divorce rate and if preceded by engagement prior to moving in together, may even slightly decrease the risk of divorce.[15,16,17] These papers contain methodological flaws and/or do not contain the raw data.  Even if the assertions should prove accurate, they ignore the 27% dissolution rate of cohabitations within the first 3 years, more than double the divorce rate. Even limiting the question to cohabitations preceded by engagement, they do not include the subset of these cohabitations that dissolved prior to marriage.  With or without engagement, if cohabitation is considered “a marital responsibility equivalent” then its dissolution is a “divorce equivalent”.

Study# years after onset of marriage (M) or cohabitation (C)M still MM then S/D (S=separated) (D=divorced)C then S/D (+/- interim M)C still CC now MC to M to S/DC now S
A-1Under 5 to plus 5-720%40%C
A-2Under 1 to plus 5-723.3%35.6%
A-3"Likely to S/D" 6-12 years after M or C12.6%39%
B10 years10%36%21%33%
CWomen: 10 years after marriage34%45%
CMen: 10 years after marriage31%47%
DWomen: 10 & 20 years after marriage29% & 43%39% & 55%
DMen: 10 & 20 years after marriage27% & 40%34% & 51%
EFirst child born over 8 months after marriage: 20 yearswomen: 32%
men: 26%
EPregnant at marriage: 20 yearswomen: 59%
men: 57%
EPregnancy prior to marriage: 20 yearswomen: 67%
men: 58%

A[18] = 303 cohabitating and 1032 married couples first interviewed in 1987-88 and interviewed again in 1992-94 (couples included had all been together for less than 5 years (A-1) or for less than 1 year (A-2) when first interviewed); A-3 is percent of couples where at least one partner thought that there was over a 50% likelihood of future separation or divorce.

B[19]= 1995 study of cohabitating women

C[20]= Cohabitation prior to engagement; 2002 study

D= Cohabitation prior to engagement; 2006-10 study Engagement prior to cohabitation increased the likelihood that subsequent marriages would remain intact for men, however, engagement prior to cohabitation was not protective for women.[21] Conversely, using only the subset of the same data who married after 1996, Manning concluded that women but not men benefitted from engagement prior to cohabitation.[22]

E[23] = 2006-10 study

When premarital sex, rather than cohabitation, was studied, white women from 1965-1988 had a consistent 60% increased rate of divorce if they had engaged in premarital sex;  among black women the benefit has been apparent only since 1975, but is increasing.[24]

1988 StudyVirgin brides
White (Black)
Non-virgin brides
White (Black)
Relative risk of S/D
non-virgin brides
% virgin brides
White (Black)
Rate S/D at 5-8 years
(married between 1980-83)
14% (13%)24% (44%)1.7 (3.4)14% (4%)
Rate S/D at 9-14 years
(married between 1975-79)
21% (29%)34% (48%)1.6 (1.65)22% (5%)
Rate S/D at 15-19 years
(married between 1970-74)
30% (61%)46% (53%)1.5 (negative)30% (10%)
Rate S/D at 19-24 years
(married between 1965-69)
30% (57%)50% (58%)1.7 (none)43% (12%)

None of the more recent studies control for the negative impact of premarital sex, apart from cohabitation, upon marriage dissolution.  Nor do they report on the effect of prior cohabitation with a previous partner on subsequent marital stability.  To adequately investigate the effects of both premarital sex and cohabitation, the correct questions need to be asked in the next national survey to enable the following groups to be compared:

(1) a control group of virgins at onset of marriage,(2) non-cohabiters who married but had premarital sex only with each other, (3) non-cohabiters who married but also engaged in serial monogamy with previous partners, (4) cohabiters whose cohabiting union dissolved without marriage, (5) cohabiters who are still cohabiting with the same original partner (6) cohabiters who subsequently married their first cohabiting partner, and (7) cohabiters who married after a previous cohabitation dissolved.

Infidelity     

Cohabitation has twice the risk of infidelity as marriage, and those who cohabitated before marriage were half again as likely to commit adultery. Controlling for sexual values, attending religious services more frequently is associated with lower likelihood of infidelity. Having had more sexual partners previously is associated with a greater likelihood of infidelity.  Besides a public commitment, those married are more likely to have children and to own a home jointly. They face higher exit costs should the relationship end. Because cohabiters risk less by an affair, it is not surprising that cohabiters are more likely to have secondary sex partners (Dolcini, et al., 1993). Each additional sex partner between age 18 and the first union increased the net odds of infidelity by 1%.  After controlling for other factors, cohabiters were more than twice as likely to engage in infidelity as married people.[25]  In the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) reported in 2005, 92-93% of currently married men and women reported only 1 sexual partner while 4% reported 2 or more.  In contrast, 15% of cohabiting men and women reported 2 or more sexual partners in the preceding year.[26]

2005 NSFG Study1 sexual partner2 or more sexual partners
MarriedMen: 92%, Women 93%Men: 4.5%, Women: 4%
CohabitatingMen: 80%, Women: 80%Men: 16%, Women: 15%

Summary

In summary, although it may appear to be a practical, positive stepping stone to a healthy marriage, research indicates living together before marriage (cohabitation) can bring significant harm to the relationship and the individuals involved.  Cohabitation makes it more likely that couples will break up, and more likely that they will divorce if they do marry.  Partners who cohabitate are also more likely to be unfaithful than are married spouses, and are more likely to be violent toward the other partner.  As detailed in Part II of this report, the children coming from a cohabiting relationship are at increased health risks as well.  The doctors of the American College of Pediatricians urge their adolescent patients to avoid cohabitation and to recognize the life-long benefits of marriage.  They also encourage parents to have those tough conversations with their teen children and educate them about the risks of cohabitation.  Saving the sexual relationship for marriage brings physical, emotional, and mental benefits to a couple.

Part 2 of this paper: The Effects of Parental Cohabitation on Children

Primary Author: Patricia Lee June, MD, FCP
Originally posted July 2014
Updated March 2015

The American College of Pediatricians is a national medical association of licensed physicians and healthcare professionals who specialize in the care of infants, children, and adolescents. The mission of the College is to enable all children to reach their optimal physical and emotional health and well-being.

A PDF of this statement can be printed here: Cohabitation Part 1 of 2

REFERENCES

[1] P.Y. Goodwin, W.D. Mosher, A. Chandra. Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statics 2010; 23(8). accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_028.pdf on Feb 16, 2012.

[2] Andrew Cherlin, “The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (Nov 2004):849.

[3] J.C. Abma, G.M. Martinez, C.E. Copen. Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, National Survey of Family Growth 2006-2008. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statistics. 2010; 23-30.

[4] (ccxxxiv-GU page 56). N. Glenn, E. Marquardt. Hooking Up, Hanging Out, and Hoping for Mr. Right: College Women on Mating and Dating Today. New York, NY: Institute of American Values; 2001. Available at: http://www.americanvalues.org/Hooking_Up.pdf. Accessed August 11, 2010.

[5] Edward Laumann, Robert T. Michjael, and Gina Kolata, Sex in America (New York: Time Warner 1995),75.

[6] P.Y. Goodwin, W.D. Mosher, A. Chandra. Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statics 2010; 23(8). accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_028.pdf on Feb 16, 2012.

[7] G.K. Rhoades, S.M. Stanley, H.J. Markman. The Pre-Engagement Cohabitation Effect: A Replication and Extension of Previous Findings. Journal of Family Psychology 2009; 23:107-111.

[8] C. T. Kenney, S.S. McLanahan, “Why are cohabitating relationships more violent than marriages?” Demography (Feb 2006):43(1):127-40.

[9] Marin Clarkberg, Ross M. Stolzenberg, and Linda J. Waite, “Attitudes, Values and Entrance in to Cohabitational Versus Marital Unions,” Social Forces 4 (1995):609-32.

[10]Read it Shackelford, T. K. (2001). Cohabitation, marriage, and murder: Woman-killing by male romantic partners. Aggressive Behavior, 27 , 284-291  accessed on March 8,2012 at http://www.toddkshackelford.com/downloads/Shackelford-AB-2001.pdf, T.B. Heaton. Factors Contributing to Increasing Marital Stability in the United States. Journal of Family Issues 2002; 23:392- 409.

[11] C. T. Kenney, S.S. McLanahan, “Why are cohabitating relationships more violent than marriages?” Demography (Feb 2006):43(1):127-40.  *calculated from raw data in Table 2.

[12] Kersti Yllo and Murray A. Straus, “Interpersonal Violence Among Married and Cohabitating Couples,” Family Relations (1981):30.

[13] Andrew Cherlin, “The Deinstitutionalization of American Marriage,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (Nov 2004):849.

[14] Kamp Dush, Claire M. et al. 2003. “The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?” Journal of Marriage and Family 65: 539-549.

[15] Manning, W. D., & Cohen, J. A. (2012). Premarital cohabitation and marital dissolution: An examination of recent marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family (April 2012):74:377–387.

[16] Reinhold, S. (2010). Reassessing the link between premarital cohabitation and marital instability. Demography (August 2010):47:719–733.

[17] Kuperberg A. Age at Coresidence, Premarital Cohabitation, and Marriage Dissolution: 1985–2009. J Marriage and Family 76 (Mar 2014):352-369.

[18] C. T. Kenney, S.S. McLanahan, “Why are cohabitating relationships more violent than marriages?” Demography (Feb 2006):43(1):127-40.  *(115 of 303 cohabiters and 206 of 1032 married up to 5 years at first interview; 47 of 147 cohabiters and 36 of 155 married under one year at first interview.  See Table 2.).

[19] Abma JC, Chandra A, Mosher WD, et al, Fertility, family planning and women’s health: new data from the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth. Vital Health Stat 23. No. 19. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 1997. DHHS Publications No. (PHS) 97-1995. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_019.pdf. Accessed Feb 26, 2012.

[20] P.Y. Goodwin, W.D. Mosher, A. Chandra. Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statics 2010; 23(8).Tables 16 and 17.

[21] Casey E. Copen, Ph.D.; Kimberly Daniels, Ph.D.; Jonathan Vespa, Ph.D.and William D. Mosher, Ph.D., First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.  Division of Vital Statistics. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics   Number 49 March 22, 2012 at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr049.pdf accessed March 28, 2012

[22] Casey E. Copen, Ph.D.; Kimberly Daniels, Ph.D.; Jonathan Vespa, Ph.D.and William D. Mosher, Ph.D., First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.  Division of Vital Statistics. U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Health Statistics   Number 49 March 22, 2012 at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr049.pdf accessed March 28, 2012.

[23] J.R. Kahn, K.A. London. Premarital Sex and the Risk of Divorce. Journal of Marriage and Family 1991; 53:845-855.

[24] Judith Treas and Deirdre Giesen, “Sexual Infidelity among Married and Cohabiting Americans,” Journal of Marriage and the Family 62, no. 1 (2000): 54.

[25] W. Mosher, A. Chandra, J. Jones. Sexual Behavior and Selected Health Measures: Men and Women 15-44 Years of Age, United States, 2002. Advance Data. 2005; 362: 1-54.accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/ad/ad362.pdf on February 20, 2012.

[26] P.Y. Goodwin, W.D. Mosher, A. Chandra. Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statics 2010; 23(8). accessed at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_23/sr23_028.pdf on Feb 16, 2012.

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