Currently, heterosexual couples who live together before marriage and those who don’t have about the same chance of marital success, reports USA Today:

The report, by the National Center for Health Statistics, is based on the National Survey of Family Growth, a sample of almost 13,000. It provides the most detailed data on cohabitation of men and women to date.

Past research — using decades-old data — found significantly higher divorce rates for cohabitors, defined as “not married but living together with a partner of the opposite sex.” But now, in an era when about two-thirds of couples who marry live together first, a different picture is emerging in which there are few differences between those who cohabit and those who don’t.

Sociologists weigh in on the findings:

Sociologist Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor considers the data definitive. “On the basis of these numbers, there is not a negative effect of cohabitation on marriages, plain and simple,” she says.

Paul Amato, a sociologist at Pennsylvania State University, says the new data suggest that “maybe the effect of premarital cohabitation is becoming less of a problem than it was in the past. If it becomes normative now, maybe it’s not such a big deal.”

However, according to the study’s co-author, Bill Mosher:

“There’s a real difference in the types of cohabitations out there.  We can show that now with these national data.”

The data show that those who live together after making plans to marry or getting engaged have about the same chances of divorcing as couples who never cohabited before marriage. But those who move in together before making any clear decision to marry appear to have an increased risk of divorce.


Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, says the report may quell fears of cohabitation “as a long-term substitute for marriage,” as in some European countries.  “American cohabitors either marry or break up in a few years,” he says.

MSNBC also joined the fray this week in reporting on cohabitation.  Check it out here for more fabulous sociological commentary on shacking up.