What Is Cohabitation? - Statistics & Effects

Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gary Gilles

Gary has a Master's degree in Counseling Psychology and has been teaching and developing courses in higher education since 1988.

Cohabitation, or the decision to live together before marriage, has become increasingly popular. Learn why more couples are living together before marriage, what the potential consequences might be, and test your knowledge with quiz questions.

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.

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  • 0:00 What Is Cohabitation?
  • 0:29 Common Reasons for…
  • 1:36 How Common Is Cohabitation?
  • 2:14 Potential Downside of…
  • 4:20 Lesson Summary
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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.

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