Couples Who Live Together Before Marriage at Higher Risk of Divorce: Study

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Couples who live together before they get married are at greater risk of getting a divorce, a recently released study has found, supporting previous data.

What is called the "premarital cohabitation effect" continues to be a real phenomenon, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Marriage and Family. This effect, long examined by social scientists, is that those who live together before getting married are more likely to struggle during marriage.

The study, "Cohabitation Experience and Cohabitation's Association With Marital Dissolution," from authors Michael Rosenfeld and Katharina Roesler suggests that such struggles involve an increased risk of divorce and that previous research arguing the effect disappeared was biased toward short versus longer-term effects, as noted Wednesday by Scott Stanley and Galena Rhoades at The Institute for Family Studies in Charlottesville, Virginia.

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Those who say the negative effects of cohabiting disappeared simply did not have outcomes for divorce far enough out for those who had married in the recent cohorts that they examined, they explain.

Rosenfeld and Roesler found that living together before marriage is linked with lower odds of divorce in the first year of marriage but the odds of divorce rise in every other year tested, a data point that holds across decades of research. For their research they used a harmonized data set of six waves of the retrospective National Surveys of Family Growth — with 216,455 couple-years — analyzing them with discrete time-event history methods to predict marital dissolution.

The data was a nationally representative sample of women aged 44 years and younger in first marriages in the United States from 1970 to 2015.

Recent scholarly papers that have asserted that the premarital cohabitation effect has gone away among people who got married in the past 10 to 15 years relied upon the notion that as living together before marriage became normalized it would cease to be tied to negative outcomes in marriage, perhaps because of less stigma among family and friends, Stanley and Rhoades explained.

But Rosenfeld and Roesler's study disputes that theory, which also notes that the risks of living together before marriage were even higher among those who had cohabited with more partners than only their mate before marriage.

Although precise causes are debated and difficult to pin down, couples who go straight into marriage without living together have a larger immediate shock to negotiate after marriage and thus have a short-term increased risk greater than those already living together, they argue.

The study reaffirming the increased chances of divorce for couples who live together before marriage comes amid other data revealing that in the U.S., approximately 40 percent of births happen outside of marriage, a 10 percent increase from 1970, according to an annual U.N. Population Fund report released Wednesday.

The data show such births in the U.S. are predominantly to unmarried couples living together rather than to single mothers, the UNFP report indicates. The data also suggests that societal and religious norms about marriage, childbearing and women in the labor force have changed significantly.

Most Americans adults, when surveyed, say living together before marriage is a "good" idea.

In a report called Barna Trends 2017, results showed that 65 percent of American adults said cohabitation was a good idea, compared to 35 percent who believed it wasn't a good thing. Fifty-seven percent reported they had either currently or have previously lived with their boyfriend or girlfriend.

Meanwhile, research continues to show that children do better on every front when their parents are married.

Aggregated data from 100 nations in a February 2017 study, "The Cohabitation Go-Round: Co-habitation and Family Instability Across the Globe," revealed that families are much more unstable when children are born to unmarried parents or to single mothers. More detailed findings from 68 of those countries showed that the rising rates of couples choosing not to marry significantly destabilizes children, particularly in their early years of life.

In the U.S., "most children born to single parents are drawn into cohabiting or marital relationships while they are growing up, and relationships formed after the birth of a child are less stable — even if the biological parents partner," the research found.

Follow Brandon Showalter on Facebook: BrandonMarkShowalter Follow Brandon Showalter on Twitter: @BrandonMShow

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