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Couple Brushing Their TeethMany of us may remember a time in which living together before marriage was a no-no. It was once derogatorily referred to as “shacking up” or “living in sin.” Unmarried couples who shared a home were pressured to either move out or tie the knot. While some religions today still see it in a negative light, the number of pairs living together continues to rise. To understand what’s going on, it’s essential to evaluate some crucial facts about cohabiting couples. 

A Few Fast Facts About Cohabitation

The Cut’s Cari Romm summarizes a May 2018 report on cohabitation trends from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Around 18 million adults were in cohabiting in 2016, which is a 29% increase from 2007. Moreover, these individuals tended to be poorer and with less education than their married or non-cohabiting counterparts. Unsurprisingly, they were also more supportive of living together and raising children outside of marriage.

The Spruce’s Sheri Stritof adds more fascinating facts about cohabiting couples. Bowling Green State University’s National Center for Family and Marriage Research reveals that 66% of married couples have lived together before their weddings. Around 50% of first-time cohabiting couples eventually wed, but they’re statistically more likely to divorce sooner. Those who don’t tie the knot separate five times more often, experience infidelity at higher rates, and have poorer overall relationship quality than married couples.

The Stories Behind the Numbers

Statistics from both reports paint an interesting picture of cohabitation. As Romm recaps, they indicate that income and education gaps between married couples and those living together lie in a desire for financial stability. In other words, their goals may include saving money, paying off debt, or achieving career and education advancements. For these pairs, wedded bliss may be out of reach until such gaps are closed.

That’s not shocking, given that younger adults are postponing marriage, according to a Time article from November 2018. Those same financial concerns are further exacerbated by income inequality, which could prompt couples to move in together for added security. On top of that, some who are living together do so because they have unexpectedly become parents. Time quotes another sobering statistic: 16% of cohabiting parents live below the federal poverty line.

What Do These Statistics Really Mean?

Since financial security is a major determining factor of whether couples eventually marry, the larger picture with cohabiting unions becomes a little clearer. Most fall into one of two categories, either deliberately planning to live together before their wedding or choosing it because of money issues or sudden parenthood.

In such a complex landscape, it’s not hard to see potential gaps between couples with more privilege and those facing economic disparities. Those who have the money to tie the knot are more likely to do so. Meanwhile, those with lower incomes, not as much education, or other difficulties focus on essentials: survival for both themselves and any children born to them. With these realities, paying thousands of dollars for a wedding ranks much lower on their list of priorities. Furthermore, unmarried pairs receiving certain types of government benefits may face worse prospects if they marry. Higher combined incomes can disqualify them for assistance such as food stamps, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income payments.

Understanding the Bottom Line

Cohabitation used to be considered taboo in Western societies, but attitudes and mores have changed dramatically in the last 50 years. With the exception of some conservative-leaning thinkers and organizations, living together before or without getting married has become a societal norm. Even so, there’s more behind the latest statistics than couples on test runs or eschewing marriage as an institution. Practical realities such as income stability and education often play into the mix. The same factors that can aid a successful marriage also influence the decision to cohabitate.

Category: Engagement

culture money relationships morals

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