Rethinking Cohabitation

Jessica Grose flags a new study debunking the conventional wisdom that shacking up before marriage leads to divorce:

According to a paper [sociologist Arielle] Kuperberg is publishing in the April issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, it’s not premarital cohabitation that predicts divorce. It’s age.

It’s long been known that there’s a correlation between age at first marriage and divorce—the younger you get married the first time, up until your mid-20s, the more likely your marriage is to break up. Kuperberg looked at data from the National Survey of Family Growth from 1996–2010 and found that the same goes for cohabitators. If you move in together in your teens or early 20s, then you are more at risk for divorce; the reason that couples who move in together young break up “is the same reason age of marriage is a predictor of divorce: people aren’t prepared for those roles,” Kuperberg says.

Another study discovered “that the length of time a couple has been romantically involved before moving in together is also crucial to whether they end up divorcing”:

Those with higher education levels tend to take longer to move in with their partners, she found. Half of college-educated women moved in with their partners after at least a year; one-third were romantically involved for two years before joining house. Data from the most recent National Survey of Family Growth show that more than half of women with only a high school degree in a cohabitating relationship moved in with their partner in less than six months.

Professor [Sharon] Sassler found in her research that many couples with lower incomes and less education decided to move in together because of financial pressures.  She argues that it is the type of premarital cohabitation that predicts divorce, not necessarily cohabitation in itself.