Blog Post

Study: Cohabitation Associated with Greater Risk of Divorce

Data published last week by the British Office for National Statistics for England and Wales confirms that couples who cohabit before marriage have a much greater risk of separation and divorce than couples who don't live together before the wedding.

According to Zenit News, the study found that around 55 percent of marriages that started in the early 1980s in which at least one partner had lived with someone else have ended in divorce or separation. This compares with around 45 percent of couples who had only lived with each other and 40 percent for those who had not lived together at all.

"For all marriages since 1980 prior and previous cohabitation quickly emerge as being associated with greater risk of separation and divorce," the report concluded.

The report also found that marriage rates have deceased while cohabitation rates are on the rise. For instance, in 2010, only 48 percent of the adult population of England and Wales were married. Of the rest, 35 percent were single, nine percent were divorced, and seven percent were widowed. It is estimated around one in six people were found to be cohabitating.

"One of the main reasons for the decrease in the married population and the increase in the single population is the growth of cohabitation by unmarried couples,” the report stated.

Couples are also choosing to cohabit for longer periods of time. Researchers believe this is mainly due to the fact that many couples no longer see cohabitation as a prelude to marriage, but as a lifestyle choice in its own right.

The damage caused by cohabitation increases when a partner lives with someone who is not the eventual spouse. Prior cohabitation of a married couple is associated with a 15 percent greater risk of divorce while previous cohabitation with another partner increases the risk by 45 percent.

Even though more and more research is confirming that stable married couples provide the best environment to raise children, the UK study found an increase in the number of cohabiting couples with dependent children. The number rose from 808,000 cohabiting households with children in 2001 to 1.07 million in 2010.

One of the most recent studies confirming the benefits of marriage on children was research released just last month by the Australian Institute of Family Studies. In this study, researchers Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston analyzed data on almost 5,000 children across Australia from the time the children were 4-5 years old until they were 8-9 years old. The children of married couples had higher levels of learning and social and emotional development than children of de facto parents or single mothers.

In a comprehensive review of the research regarding cohabitation and its impact on marriage and society in general, David Popenoe, Ph.D. and  Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, Ph.D, of the University of Rutger's National Marriage Project, concluded:

"Despite its widespread acceptance by the young, the remarkable growth of unmarried cohabitation in recent years does not appear to be in children's or the society's best interest.  The evidence suggests that it has weakened marriage and the intact, two-parent family and thereby damaged our social well-being, especially that of women and children. We can not go back in history, but it seems time to establish some guidelines for the practice of cohabitation and to seriously question the further institutionalization of this new family form."

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