Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.
What Is Cohabitation?
Cohabitation is when two people who are romantically involved choose to live together without making the formal commitment of marriage. Cohabiting couples are typically emotionally and sexually intimate. The term 'cohabitation' is not commonly used to describe people who are merely sharing a living space or who call themselves 'roommates.' Cohabitation can pertain to either heterosexual or same sex couples, but it is most commonly used in reference to heterosexual couples.
Common Reasons for Cohabitation
There are three common reasons couples choose to live together.
First, many couples state the primary reason for living together is to find out if they are compatible. Some view living together as a way to determine whether they can agree to a longer-term marital commitment. Cohabitation gives the couple an opportunity to see how they would adjust to each other's habits and living patterns on a more intensive basis. Living together before marriage also gives each party the option to end the relationship without the many legal complications involved in divorce.
Many couples also move in together in an effort to spend more time together. Working separate jobs, living in different geographic locations, and having different daily routines can leave little room to be together. Cohabiting affords the couple the convenience of more time to weave their routines and interests and assess the relationship.
Another strong incentive for some couples to live together is to save money. When they have already established that they care for one another and want to see where the relationship is going, they see moving in together as a way to save on rent, food, and other living expenses.
How Common Is Cohabitation?
The number of couples who choose to live together prior to marriage has been steadily increasing. In 1960, when it was officially illegal in the U.S. to cohabitate, there were an estimated 450,000 couples living together. By 2011, that number had increased to 7.5 million. A recent study estimated that 48% of first cohabiting women choose to live with their male partner. This is up from 43% in 2002 and 34% in 1995. Among people who are currently married, approximately two-thirds say they lived together before making a marriage commitment.
Potential Downside of Cohabitation
Though cohabitation is increasingly popular, not all of the data points to potential benefits. Here are some of the negative effects associated with cohabitation.
Some studies show that cohabiting couples are more likely to split than move toward marriage. The average length of cohabitation for first-time couples is currently 22 months. If a couple makes it past the three-year mark, about 40% go on to marry. The other 60% either continue to cohabitate or break up.
It appears that a marriage commitment tends to strengthen the resolve of couples to work together through their problems and stay together more than those who cohabitate. In a 2002 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, it was found that after five years of marriage, about 20% of couples ended their relationship, compared to 49% for the couples who were unmarried and cohabitated. Likewise, a 2006 study found that men who cohabitated before engagement were less devoted to their partner than those who cohabitated after engagement.
There is some research that suggests cohabitation could have detrimental effects on children raised in these homes. The cohabiting relationship, because it tends to be more fragile and uncertain than a married union, can create a less stable environment for raising children. A 2001 study compared the effects of cohabiting homes against the single-parent home environment and found that teens in the cohabiting homes were more likely to do poorly in school and have as many behavioral problems as teens living in single-parent homes.
Low income couples that cohabitate may be able to avoid what is commonly referred to as the marriage penalty, which occurs when married couples end up paying more tax than two unmarried individuals filing separately with the same combined amount. But, couples that cohabit miss out on the many benefits of a legal union, such as joint insurance policies, long-term retirement planning, and certain legal protections that are automatic as a result of being legally recognized by the state as a married couple.
Cohabitation is when two people who are romantically involved choose to live together without making the formal commitment of marriage. Cohabiting couples are typically emotionally and sexually intimate. The number of cohabiting couples has increased dramatically in recent years, to an estimated 7.5 million in 2011.
There is some research that shows cohabiting couples experience a greater risk of breakup than married couples. The average length of cohabitation for first-time couples is currently 22 months. In a 2002 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, it was found that after five years of marriage, about 20% of couples ended their relationship, compared to 49% for the couples who were unmarried and cohabitated.
The cohabiting relationship, because it tends to be more fragile and uncertain than a married union, can create a less stable environment for raising children. The financial consequences for cohabiting couples is greater than for married couples because they miss out on many benefits of a legal union, such as joint insurance policies, long-term retirement planning, and certain legal protections.
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