Study Finds Cohabiting Doesn’t Make a Union Last

Couples who live together before they get married are less likely to stay married, a new study has found. But their chances improve if they were already engaged when they began living together.

The likelihood that a marriage would last for a decade or more decreased by six percentage points if the couple had cohabited first, the study found.

The study of men and women ages 15 to 44 was done by the National Center for Health Statistics using data from the National Survey of Family Growth conducted in 2002. The authors define cohabitation as people who live with a sexual partner of the opposite sex.

“From the perspective of many young adults, marrying without living together first seems quite foolish,” said Prof. Pamela J. Smock, a research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. “Just because some academic studies have shown that living together may increase the chance of divorce somewhat, young adults themselves don’t believe that.”

Read more:

From personal experience, I know of quite a few couples who lived together and eventually parted company. Co-habiting did them no good whatsoever. I know of one couple who lived togethyer for six years, got married and parted before two years had gone by. Go figure…

The sad thing about studying cohabitation in this way is that the very mindsets and perspectives which influence whether a particular couple will choose to cohabitate also strongly influence the nature of their relationship (among lots of other things) and how they negotiate, etc, thus influencing what kind of marriage they might have.

The consequence of this is that no matter what the “results” of these studies might show, it does not translate into an imperative to persuade a couple to not cohabitate for the sake of their future marriage (in the sense of whatever benefit the study showed, not for judgment in the eyes of God!). To do this, one would have to run a study where the couples are made to either cohabitate or not based on the design of the study, that is, the couple would have no choice in the matter! That study, while not impossible, would be prohibitively implausible.

There are a number of good points in the study. Not only does cohabiting decrease the likelihood of successful marriage, but if you read closely, only 50% of those who cohabit actually end up getting married. As a path to marriage, which many people view it as, it simply isn’t very affective.

Thanks for posting the story.

Sorry I don’t have a link, but I recently read that the factors that contribute to a marriage that lasts - at least 10 years according to the article - are to marry someone who is similar to oneself, not to marry until at least age 24, to be a college graduate, and to have a child within five years.

There are exceptions, of course, but the basic conditions seem reasonable to me.

I wish to point out that the study shows no such thing. It cannot be used to demonstrate a causual relationship because it is not designed to do that.

Correlation =!= Causation. This study (and all like them) are retrospective, they look at what already happened. They do not and cannot speak to the success of couples’ marriages if someone persuades them to change their mind (in either direction) about cohabitating.

Like I said earlier, such a study to do that right would be enormously implausible.

This is not a plug for cohabitation. This is a plug for intellectual honesty. If we value Truth, we should strive for it.

I apprecaite the advocacy of the truth. However, to say that it “shows no such thing.” is also a simplification. While correlation and causation are indeed separate, past correlations may be indicative of causation, though they may also be spurious. The following quote I believe provides some middle ground. But I do apologize if my sentence left the implication of strict causation. I readily admit that it was too loosely worded.

"Correlation does not imply causation" is a phrase used in science and statistics to emphasize that correlation between two variables does not automatically imply that one causes the other (though it does not remove the fact that correlation can still be a hint, whether powerful or otherwise[1][2]).

I agree here, certainly the study is interesting and might be food for thought for coming up with hypotheses, etc. (although it’s not like there are not enough hypotheses about cohabitation:)). But strict causuality is not on the radar – at least yet.

I also apologize if I sounded too condescending in my previous post. I tried not to and even previewed it. But after reading it with your response above as a single thread, it did seem a little harsh. Thanks for the charity in your reply and I’ll try to include more in mine.

The study cited by the NYT article claims much the same: be a college graduate and marry a college graduate, don’t marry before you are 26, and don’t get pregnant before you marry.

For a marriage to last, each spouse must go into it totally committed to his or her partner, not to himself. If we try to hold something back for ourself, that’s not commitment, that is something less than marriage. And cohabitation is simply lack of commitment and unpaid sex with no future.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit