Cohabitation or Marriage: What is Right for Me?

With cohabitation on the rise, societal norms and expectations surrounding marriage are changing before our eyes. “Things are changing for the better. Couples nowadays are making smarter financial decisions, and leading with their heads instead of their hearts”, said Lynne Lackey, married woman of fifty years. According to a study done by Manning, Joyner, Hemez, and Cupka (2019), cohabitation is one of the fastest growing family forms in the United States. Let’s take a deeper dive to see how young couples and married partners are changing the cohabitation and marriage scenes in America. 

Younger adults are more likely to see cohabitation as a path to a successful marriage. According to Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman (2009) cohabitation increases the chances for marriage, partly because constraints to stay together increase when partners begin cohabitating. If you take a look at the graph below, about half of U.S. adults say couples who live together before marriage have a better chance at what is deemed a successful marriage, as compared to those who don’t live together before marriage. 

infographic 1

As shown in the graph above, young adults (ages 18-29) compared to the rest of adults (ages 30+) believe that living together before marriage sets them up for a more successful marriage in the long run. “Just dating someone isn’t enough. Once you live with your partner you learn so much more about them, from their living habits, to their cleanliness, down to the way they eat. Cohabiting before marriage can make or break a relationship. It all comes down to whether or not you see yourself spending the rest of your life with this person”, said Rhiannon Marchese, 21-year-old woman who lives with her boyfriend.

Many cohabiting adults view living together as a step toward marriage. Rhiannon Marchese shared that she would not have moved in with her boyfriend had she not seen marriage in their future. Manning et al (2019) reports that views on cohabitation can be influenced by race, education level, gender, and age. In the graph below, you see how level of education plays a role in whether or not cohabitation is viewed as a step toward marriage. 

infographic 2

As pictured in the graph above, the more education obtained, the more cohabitation was viewed as a step toward marriage. 71% of high schoolers and 57% of college students (working towards a degree) did not see cohabitation as a step toward marriage. Once a Bachelor’s degree or higher level of education was obtained, the statistics were split right down the middle; 50% view cohabitation as a step toward marriage and 50% not viewing cohabitation as a step toward marriage. This research shows that even though cohabitation is widespread, it remains an incomplete institution and therefore there is no gold standard for measuring this type of relationship (Manning et al, 2019). 

Married adults have more relationship satisfaction and trust than unmarried cohabiting couples. On the contrary to that, part of Severeid’s (2019) research found that definite marriage plans, prior cohabitation, and relationship duration are not indicators of relationship quality. The graph below represents a number of interesting findings that highlight the slightly differing levels of trust and satisfaction between married and cohabiting adults. Take a look at the graph below to see if you agree with the presented findings.

infographic 3

In this study, about six of ten married couples reported “things are going very well”, whereas only about four in ten people in cohabiting relationships said the same. Does putting a ring on it solidify the relationship and “make things go well”? Interestingly enough, this study asked about more specific aspects of married and cohabiting couples’ chores, work/personal life balance, communication, and approaches to parenting. As pictured in the graph above, across the board married couples are more satisfied in all aspects mentioned, as compared to cohabiting couples. The only aspect of both married and cohabiting couples that had almost no variation was their sex life. 

These graphs and studies have highlighted just a glimpse of new wave marriage and cohabitation norms. It might be overwhelming to see so many statistics about this topic. As Manning et al (2019) mentioned, there is no gold standard or rule of thumb for these types of relationships. My advice is to do what’s best for you, while always keep your own interests at heart. Everything will turn out for you the way it is meant to be. At the end of the day, you don’t need a partner to be happy, so look within yourself!

References

Lackey, L. (2020, May 3). Personal interview, quote 1. 

Manning, W. D., Joyner, K., Hemez, P., & Cupka, C. (2019). Measuring cohabitation in U.S. national surveys. Demography, 56(4), 1195-1218. 

Marchese, R. (2020, May 3). Personal interview, quote 2.

Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The pre-engagement cohabitation effect: A replication and extension of previous findings. Journal of Family Psychology 23(1), 107-111.

Sevareid, E. E. (2019). Dimensions of cohabiting relationships in emerging adulthood: Implications for psychological well-being. American Sociological Association, 1-45.

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