Thursday, February 4, 1999Modern Marriage
The evidence is stacking up against shacking up
A growing body of research has found that people who live together before marriage are more likely than other couples to divorce. A report released this week from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University said studies done over the last decade demonstrate a clear connection between living together before marriage and splitting up after. Among the recent studies on cohabitation and marriage was one released in 1997 by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. It showed 27% of women who lived with someone before marriage ended up divorced within five years. Ten percent of women who never lived with a boyfriend saw their marriages dissolve in the same period. Another study, which was done in 1992 and based on figures from the National Survey of Families and Households, found couples who lived together before marriage are 46% more likely to see their marriages dissolve. The hot question for marriage and family sociologists these days is why. Many researchers believe the reason is partly that people who live together are more unconventional to begin with and are less committed to the institution of marriage. The authors of the latest report, titled Should We Live Together? What Young Adults Need to Know About Cohabitation Before Marriage, suspect something more insidious - that living together slowly erodes people's ability to commit and their faith in the institution of marriage. "You get into a pattern that works against having a long-term, committed relationship," said Barbara Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project, which has funding from a variety of private sources, most of them conservative in nature. Other sociologists said the increase in unmarried people living together is only part of a much larger phenomenon - the decreasing centrality of marriage. They said living together may in fact help root out poor relationships that would otherwise have become unhappy marriages. Larry Bumpass, director of the National Survey, which is based at the University of Wisconsin, noted the divorce rate has stabilized since 1980, while the rate of cohabitation has shot up. "If cohabitation was causing an increase in divorce, you would have expected the divorce rate to accelerate but it's not" he said. "to lay everything on the doorstep of cohabitation is to fail to recognize the dramatic change that is occurring in the way marriage is viewed.
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