At one time, cohabitation (or “shacking up,” as it was called in another time) -- two unmarried persons living together and usually of the opposite sex–- carried a stigma and was, in fact, illegal in most jurisdictions. No more. In the past 40 years, cohabitation rates have increased 1,150 percent!
According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there were 439,000 cohabiters in 1960, 2.9 million in 1990 and 5.5 million in 2000, and the number is even greater today.
Cohabitation is part of the reweaving in the social fabric that includes relaxed divorce laws, same-sex marriage and, in general, a liberalization of American life.
Some see cohabitation is emblematic of the decline of marriage, but research suggests that cohabitating couples may simply be postponing marriage.
Research into the effects of cohabitation on marriage is inconclusive.
One study showed that cohabitating couples preparing for marriage are as successful at marriage as those who do not. This study, of 6,577 women married between 1970 and 1995 and conducted by Joy Teachman of Western Washington University, showed women who cohabitated only with their husbands before marriage had no greater risk of divorce than women who did not cohabit before marriage, but women who lived with persons other than their future husbands did have higher risks of divorce.
Another study, this one by Daniel Lichter, a sociologist at Cornell University in New York, seemed to support the idea of cohabitation as trial marriage. Lichter’s research showed that women who cohabited only with their future husbands experienced a divorce rate 28 percent lower than women who did not cohabit before marriage. His research suggests that cohabiting with future husbands produced better marital outcomes than marriage with no cohabitation.
According to the National Survey of Family Growth, woman ages 15 to 44, 2006 to 2010, research shows that woman with less than a high school diploma are more likely to cohabit than woman with a college degree (70 percent to 47 percent); that the woman’s first cohabitation had a median length of 22 months; and that 9 percent of woman had lived with someone by the age of 18.