Sunday, November 14, 2010

Cohabitation Data

Below are excerpts from various sources on the matter of cohabitation. We would appreciate your thoughts on this issue.

Jim Douglas

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development reports:
"Cohabitation, once rare, is now the norm: The researchers found that more than half (54 percent) of all first marriages between 1990 and 1994 began with unmarried cohabitation. They estimate that a majority of young men and women of marriageable age today will spend some time in a cohabiting relationship. ... Cohabiting relationships are less stable than marriages and that instabililty is increasing, the study found."

Readily Available Cohabitation Facts
Living together is considered to be more stressful than being married.
Just over 50% of first cohabiting couples ever get married.
In the United States and in the UK, couples who live together are at a greater risk for divorce than non-cohabiting couples.

Couples who lived together before marriage tend to divorce early in their marriage. If their marriage last seven years, then their risk for divorce is the same as couples who didn't cohabit before marriage.

Cohabitation Facts Rarely Mentioned
In France and Germany cohabiting couples have a slightly lower risk of divorce.
If cohabitation is limited to a person's future spouse, there is no elevated risk of divorce.
In the U.S., cohabiting couples taking premarital education courses or counseling are not at a higher risk for divorce.
Cohabitation - Trends And Patterns, Reasons For Cohabitation, Meanings Of Cohabitation,

Consequences Of Cohabitation, Conclusion
Cohabitational relationships are distinct from marital ones in several crucial ways. Although these differences have become less pronounced with the increase in cohabitation (and could thus eventually vanish), the following characteristics define the essential boundaries between cohabitation and marriage.

Age. People in cohabitational relationships tend to be younger than people in marital relationships. This supports the argument that cohabitation is often an antecedent to marriage. The majority of cohabitational relationships dissolve because the couples involved get married;
Fertility. Children are less likely to be born into cohabitational relationships than they are into marital relationships;

Stability. Cohabitational relationships are short-lived compared to marital relationships. In Canada, only about 12 percent of cohabitations are expected to last ten years. By comparison, 90 percent of first marriages are expected to last this long (Wu 2000). The majority of cohabitational relationships terminate within three years. Although many of these relationships end because of marriage, the lack of longevity in cohabitations as such illustrates that these relationships have yet to develop into a normative variant of marriage;

Social acceptance. Even with its numerical growth and spread throughout society, cohabitation is not as socially acceptable as marriage. Cohabitation is socially tolerated in part because it is expected that cohabiting partners will eventually become married. Indeed, according to U.S. data, about three-quarters of never married cohabitors had definite plans for marriage or believed they would eventually marry their partner (Bumpass, Sweet, and Cherlin 1991). The youthful profile of cohabitation shows that marriage is still the preferred choice of union for most couples. If cohabitation were a variant of marriage, it would have a larger prevalence in older cohorts. Although many people have chosen to delay marriage, most have not rejected it completely. A major reason cohabitations have lower fertility than marriage is because couples tend to abandon cohabitation when children are in the immediate future (Manning and Smock 1995). In most countries, marriage is perceived as the most secure and legitimate union when children are involved;

State recognition. Unlike marriage, cohabitation is not sanctioned by the state, and persons in nonmarital unions do not necessarily acquire specific legal rights and obligations through their union. Without a formal ceremony and legal documentation, a couple is not married even if they have lived together for many years. However, after a set period of time (usually one or two years), cohabiting couples are recognized as common-law partners in some countries. In such instances, common-law partners can have similar rights and obligations as they would in a legal marriage. Common-law marriage can parallel legal marriage in terms of child support and custody, spousal maintenance, income tax, unemployment insurance, medical and dental benefits, and pensions. The degree to which cohabitors are treated like legally married couples usually corresponds to the degree nonmarital unions are socially accepted. But even where cohabitors do have rights, these are often unknown to cohabitors and more complicated to exercise than they are for married persons. In many cases, the rights that cohabiting couples possess have been established by court decisions rather than by state law, as they are for married couples. Perhaps the most crucial legal distinction between these unions is the absence of shared property rights in common-law relationships. Married couples acquire shared property rights upon establishing their union, but cohabiting couples must do so through the courts. In sum, no uniform and guaranteed set of rights applies to cohabitation. This deficiency shows that in most countries, cohabitation is not yet perceived as a legitimate variant to marriage from the perspective of the state.
Read more: Cohabitation - Trends And Patterns, Reasons For Cohabitation, Meanings Of Cohabitation, Consequences Of Cohabitation, Conclusion
Can the Catholic Church Deny Marriage to a Couple Who is Living Together?
Answer from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops:
"Denial of marriage -- Since cohabitation is not in itself a canonical impediment to marriage, the couple may not be refused marriage solely on the basis of cohabitation. Marriage preparation may continue even if the couple refuses to separate. Pastoral ministers can be assured that to assist couples in regularizing their situation is not to approve of cohabitation."Source: Marriage Preparation and Cohabiting Couples: An Information Report on New Realities and Pastoral Practices


  1. My husband and I have been preparing couples to marry in the Catholic Church for the past 5 years and during that period of time we have met with over 100 couples. Of that number only two couples were not living together before deciding to get married. All of them completed marriage preparation programs through our church. As of this date, I know of only one couple who has divorced and that was due to the spouse being sent to Afghanistan under stressful conditions.
    It's made me reconsider the benefits of co-habitation before marriage with the person you intend to marry, but Marriage is an institution that is necessary in our society to promote stability.

  2. Beth

    Were there any common demographic characteristics with the couples - age, church attendance, etc, which you noted?

  3. Are children the primary motivating factor for cohabitating couples deciding to marry?

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  5. This piece had change my point of view about living in together as opposed to being married.

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