More Cohabitation, Less Commitment
Medical Institute Science Department Staff
Cohabitation has become an accepted trend among unmarried couples. Between 50-70 percent of couples today are thought to be cohabiting before deciding to marry.1 Cohabitation can be described as a living arrangement for unmarried individuals to coexist under one roof. Although there are many reasons a couple may choose to cohabit, it is apparent that most couples cohabit as either a transition or alternative to marriage.2 This is not to say that unmarried couples don’t have the vision or desire to marry. In fact, a few studies revealed that nearly all young men and women (93-96 percent) would like to get married someday.3 Even so, many unmarried couples will fall into cohabitation without a plan or decision to truly commit to marriage.
A newly studied aspect of cohabitation is the concept of “sliding into relationships”– where things go unplanned or just happen without making clear decisions.4 It has been indicated that many couples today slide into cohabitation without thoughtfully mapping out what that transition may mean for the future of their relationship. Findings sponsored by the National Marriage Project showed that couples who slide through their relationship transitions have poorer marital quality than those who make intentional decisions about major milestones.5 Those that plan to marry have an increased chance for happiness, stability, higher education and wealth, as well as emotional and physical satisfaction.6 For most marriages, the decision to actually marry and combine lives is more evident upfront. On the contrary, low level commitment prior to a cohabiting arrangement can cause conflicts down the road if the relationship continues. Also, keep in mind that the longer a cohabiting relationship continues, the less likely it is that the outcome is ever going to be marriage.7 For those couples who view cohabitation as a transition to marriage, it may serve to think about potential conflicts before they choose to live with a romantic partner outside of marriage.
A 2013 National Survey evaluated first premarital cohabitation among women interviewed in 2006-2010. In the study, an estimated 48% of women aged 15-44 cohabited before marriage.8 The study examined influences that were associated with cohabitation. Education-level was shown to affect the likelihood of cohabitation. Women with less than a high school diploma had a 76% chance of cohabiting by age 25, whereas women with a bachelor’s degree or higher only had a 36% chance of doing so.8 Another factor that came to light in the study was the relationship between cohabitation and childbearing. Cohabiting women were more likely to have an unintended pregnancy. Half of births to cohabiting women in recent years were unintended and nearly 20% of women experienced a pregnancy in the first year of their first premarital cohabitation.8
In regards to childbearing, children don’t seem to reap the benefits they should living with unmarried partners who cohabit. The structure of family plays an important role in child upbringing.9 Family structure has been shown to correlate with child abuse.10 Children born into a cohabiting arrangement are more likely to experience instability.11 Nearly one-fifth of pregnant single women begin cohabiting before their child is born.11 Research has confirmed that the most dangerous living arrangement for a child is a household where the mother is living with a boyfriend. In this type of relationship, the child’s risk for serious abuse is 33 times higher than any other family structure.10 Children of cohabiting parents are more susceptible to experience conflict, abuse, and poverty. Cohabiting families are more likely to be poor than married families.11 Some couples may choose to cohabit to acquire the financial benefits of shared incomes under a living arrangement. But findings show that cohabitation is less likely to alleviate poverty. Children involved in cohabiting environments are also more likely to experience poverty.12 Research found that disadvantaged mothers who had their first child in marriage were less likely to be in poverty than mothers who had their first child out-of- wed-lock.13 It is evident that cohabiting couples should decide on a commitment, as not deciding can still impact the lives of children that become involved.
Nonmarital childbearing suggests that the likelihood of sexual involvement increases with cohabitation. Cohabitation heightens opportunity for sex.1 Sexual involvement among unmarried cohabitors is an important concern to reflect upon given the health consequences associated with sexually transmitted infections (STIs). An estimated 20 million new infections occur every year in the U.S.14 Most STIS don’t always have symptoms and they can affect your partner and your unborn children.15 For couples who slide into these living arrangements, they are ultimately putting themselves at risk for consequences before they fully commit to their partner. With cohabitation increasing the risk for unintended pregnancies, it is important to point out that an infected mother can transmit an STI to her baby.15 In general, having sex, not getting tested, and living together under a less committed arrangement can be a temporary experience that leads to permanent damage. Cohabitation can affect a person’s physical, mental, emotional, and psychological well-being,11 especially if the cohabiting relationship ends and doesn’t lead to a higher commitment of a healthy, stable marriage.
As previously stated, many unmarried couples are delaying marriage and pursuing cohabitation instead. Cohabitation as a path to marriage can prove unreliable. Making a life choice to live with someone romantically may lead to consequences that can’t easily be resolved with hindsight. The purpose of this article is to explore different influences of cohabitation. Opting to move in and live with a romantic partner is a big deal. Sharing life responsibilities outside of a mutually monogamous long-term commitment can bring about unforeseen challenges for young couples and emerging adults. Unmarried cohabiting couples can benefit from making a high-level decision to commit to their partner. A healthy, stable marriage fosters many benefits not only for the couple but for the children as well.16 In order to improve high-level commitment in a shifting society, the emphasis on the topic of cohabitation is important to discuss as it becomes more prevalent. Medical Institute supports the formation of a healthy, stable marriage and seeks to provide research that continues to regard marriage as the bar for long- term happiness, relationship satisfaction, and high level commitment.
1.Regnerus, Mark, and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying. Oxford University Press, 2011 (p.199)
2.Regnerus, Mark, and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying. Oxford University Press, 2011 (p.204)
3.Regnerus, Mark, and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying. Oxford University Press, 2011 (p.169)
4.Owen, Jesse, Galena K. Rhoades, and Scott M. Stanley. “Sliding versus deciding in relationships: Associations with relationship quality, commitment, and infidelity.” Journal of couple & relationship therapy 12.2 (2013): 135-149.
5.Rhoades, Galena K, and Scott M Stanley. “Before ‘I Do’.” The National Marriage Project, 2014, nationalmarriageproject.org/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/NMP-BeforeIDoReport-Final.pdf.
6.Wilcox, William Bradford, et al. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences: a Report from Family Scholars. 3rd ed., Institute for American Values, 2011.(p.15,20,24,41)
Regnerus, Mark, and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying. Oxford University Press, 2011 (p.181)
7.Regnerus, Mark, and Jeremy Uecker. Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying. Oxford University Press, 2011 (p.202)
8.Copen, Casey E., Kimberly Daniels, and William D. Mosher. “First Premarital Cohabitation in the United States: 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth.” National health statistics reports; no 64. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2013.
9.Wilcox, William Bradford, et al. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences: a Report from Family Scholars. 3rd ed., Institute for American Values, 2011.(p.15-16)
10.Crouse, Janice. Children at Risk: The Precarious State of Children’s Well-being in America. Routledge, 2017. (p.62)
11.Manning, Wendy. “Cohabitation and Child Wellbeing.” The Future of Children 25.2 (2015).
12.Wilcox, William Bradford, et al. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences: a Report from Family Scholars. 3rd ed., Institute for American Values, 2011.(p.23)
13.Wilcox, William Bradford, et al. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences: a Report from Family Scholars. 3rd ed., Institute for American Values, 2011.(p.24)
14.“Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 Aug. 2018, www.cdc.gov/std/default.htm.
15.“STDs during Pregnancy – CDC Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Nov. 2016, www.cdc.gov/std/pregnancy/stdfact-pregnancy.htm.
16.Wilcox, William Bradford, et al. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences: a Report from Family Scholars. 3rd ed., Institute for American Values, 2011.(p.14,15,20)