Is there a link between living together and divorce?
The percentage of couples who cohabit before marriage has increased by almost 900 percent in the past 50 years. Today 70% of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months.
This makes sense on paper. Many couples consider living together a dry-run for marriage.
Any issues that may arise between the couple can be dealt with ahead of time, and any irreconcilable differences that may have slipped past are brought to the forefront, letting young couples avoid the messy proceedings of a divorce.
But what do the experts think?
What the Numbers Say
Unfortunately, the numbers don’t seem to reflect this. Scott Stanley and his colleagues at the University of Denver studied people in their first or second marriages to find out how cohabitation influenced marital quality and the likelihood of divorce.
They found that people who cohabitate prior to their first marriage tend to have less positive interactions and more conflict when compared to couples who did not cohabitate.
However, people who cohabitate after becoming engaged look more similar to those who don’t cohabitate. In short, both those who never cohabitate and those who cohabitate only after becoming engaged have more positive marital relationships and are less likely to divorce than those who cohabitate prior to becoming engaged.
Stanley suggests: “cohabitators who are not engaged drift into marriage without the same level of commitment as the other types of couples.” In addition, the researchers also found that couples who cohabitated prior to engagement were also more likely to divorce when compared with those who got engaged prior to cohabitating or those who waited until marriage.
The Connection Between Age and Divorce
In a paper published in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Arielle Kuperberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, says that the important characteristic is not whether people lived together first, but how old they were when they decided to share a living space.
Kuperberg believes: “that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did… What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone… before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship.”
Adding to this, economist Evelyn Lehrer of the University of Illinois-Chicago, believes that the longer people wait past 23, the more likely a marriage will last. Her own analysis of the data shows that for every year a woman waits to get married, she reduces her chances of divorce.
It’s an on-going debate, with valid points on both sides.