Looking for links re: Studies of divorce rate for cohabitating couples


I am looking for any links to studies that demonstrate the higher rate of divorce for married couples who cohabited before marriage. Thank you.


The stats are probably correct, but the conclusion usually drawn is bogus. Couples who co-habit are already easy about following the morality taught by the church, so when it comes to divorce their is also less of a problem. The difference in rates is due to differing mindsets and not the fact of cohabitation.


Here is a link to the CDC’s study:

Here is an article that has a brief summary:

Correlation does not imply causation, but we can use correlation measures for prediction purposes.


The stats can best be explained by something that I’ve constantly heard in psychology classes.

Correlation does not show causation.


It is true that correlation by itself does not indicate a causal relationship. However, correlation does show a causal relationship when the data is collected from a carefully designed, randomized experiment, by which this data is not collected.

It seems a reasonable explanation of why cohabitating couples divorce is that they have a different set of values to begin with (different values from those who do not cohabitate). Another possible explanation is that these couples got married in the first place because it seemed like the natural “next step” because they were cohabitating, not because they really wanted to get married. In this case, cohabitation would be causally related, though perhaps not directly; it probably would be tied up with the reason that rwoehmke mentioned.

For making a statement about a causal relationship, correlation is necessary but not sufficient. What I mean, is that if the correlation were 0, then we could say there is no causal relationship; we can’t say the reverse.

My point is not to “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” Since this data is obeservational (i.e. not collected from any kind of experiment), we can’t make any statements about causality from them. However, they DO indicate that there is the possibility of a causal relationship.

One way we could really test this is to design an experiment where people are randomly assigned to live together and then randomly assigned to get marriage. :slight_smile: JUST KIDDING. :stuck_out_tongue:

Sorry to go on about this. I’m a statistician and I am fascinated by data. :wink:


Would it be fair to say that cohabitation doesn’t work as a “try before you buy” test of people’s compatibility?

That seems to be a common reason why couples choose to cohab instead of just getting married.

Or is this a correlation - causation error?


One thing I want to point out is that Table 21 in CDC report shows probabilities not correlations. I think all the probabilities I need to calculate correlation are in the report, but I might have misguided this discussion by mentioning correlation explicitly with respect to the report. I jumped ahead of myself in my mind. I just wanted to express caution about making a statement like “A causes B”. The statistics given in the report are more related to prediction than explanation (e.g. causation).

However, based on these probabilities, we can say that if you are cohabitating to increase your chances of having a successful marriage (defined here as “not divorcing”), that no, this approach does appear to work.


Incidentally, it is not the cohabitation itself that leads to an increase in divorce, but rather the motives and sentiments behind cohabitation that increase its likelyhood.


I believe that it is a both/and commingling of factors (fornication, contraception, self-gratification, …) that contribute to a higher likelihood of marital infidelity and failure for cohabitating couples – cohabitating reinforces and exacerbates attitudes, beliefs and behaviors that present extra challenge successful transition to marriage and lifelong fidelity.


Thank you! for the useful links.


While there is no question that individuals living together before marriage divorce at higher rates, you have to consider whether this is actually cause and effect or symptom. It’s more likely that people that live together before marriage divorce at higher rates because they are less committed to the idea of life long marriage than just because they lived together.


Well, according to this pastoral study on the NCCB website, there is a cause/effect link due to problem resolution skills developed (or failed to develop) during cohabitation (see the section entitled “Experiences from the Cohabitation Itself” in part 1.5):



That would have been nice info to have during our engaged encounter retreat.


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