Cohabitation is fairly common nowadays once a dating relationship becomes serious. A lot has changed since the dawn of dating. It’s estimated “more than 65 percent of first marriages start out that way. Fifty years ago, it was closer to 10 percent.” But is cohabitation a good long-term solution for a relationship? In this article, we’ll look at available data and see if cohabitation provides benefit or detriment to a dating relationship.
“What are your thoughts on cohabitation?” Kristen and I somehow get into deep conversations with strangers in the most unlikely locations here in Los Angeles, CA. In this case, a restaurant host practically sat down at the table with us. “I got to my girlfriend’s place last night. When I walked in, flower petals were arranged with the question, ‘Move in?’ What should I do???”
“I guess that depends on what you want.” I said. “Do you hope to marry this girl some day?”
“Yes,” he said. “I could see myself marrying her.”
Some of the cohabitation benefits he’d been mulling over were saving money, spending more time together, and convenience. “And it might be a good test-run.” You know “try it before you buy it”?
I told him, “Let’s look at the most current research and then you can decide.” We’ll look into if cohabitation improves quality of life, quality of family, or quality of marriage.
Quality of Life
Being married has long been shown to improve quality of life. According to Harvard Health, those who are married:
- live longer
- have fewer strokes and heart attacks
- have a lower chance of becoming depressed
- be less likely to have advanced cancer at the time of diagnosis and more likely to survive cancer for a longer period of time
- survive a major operation more often.
Do these benefits extend to cohabiting couples? Not really. A study demonstrated “Married couples, but not cohabitating couples, had reduced hypothalamic activity in response to threat cues while holding hands with their partners.” In other words, married couples are better able to handle stress factors while holding hands. This benefit might not necessarily be true just because married couples wear rings and have a marriage license, but because they regard their relationship as a…marriage. So, there’s a sense of security in a marriage relationship that surpasses a cohabitation relationship.
Quality of Family
Some couples may decide to move in together upon news of pregnancy or perhaps might think having children will improve the relationship. I can personally attest, having a child definitely brings more stress into the relationship. According to the Washington Post,
Nearly 40 percent of cohabiting twentysomething parents who had a baby between 2000 and 2005 split up by the time their child was five; that’s three times higher than the rate for twentysomething parents who were married when they had a child.”
In other words, data shows having children after marriage is much more likely to result in a better relationship outcome.
Quality of Marriage
What’s most important is whether cohabitation will lead to a good marriage if that’s what’s in your deck. Researcher Galena Rhoades was interviewed by NPR, and states,
The research on whether cohabitation increases the risk of divorce is still being debated, but Rhoades and her colleagues have found that couples who move in together before getting engaged or committed to marry are a little more likely to have lower-quality marriages.”
But another researcher, Arielle Kuperberg believes the high divorce rates seen with cohabiting relationships in many studies is neutralized when age is taken into account. “This younger age at union formation for premarital cohabitors may then explain some of their increased divorce risk when compared with direct marriers.” She suggests couples should wait until their mid-2os when each individual is more established in their lives and careers for either cohabitation or marriage.
No matter which data you choose to observe, “What can be said for certain is that no published research from the United States has yet found that those who cohabit before marriage have stronger marriages than those who do not.”
In the end, I told our host friend that these are simply statistics and it’s not like they have to be one. Still, though, let the data speak for itself. Also, don’t feel pressured into doing something just because everyone else is doing it. No data shows benefit at all to cohabitation. It’s not a light decision.