Study: Cohabitation Linked to Exponential Increase in Relationship Failure Risk



March 5, 2010

By Thaddeus M. Baklinski, ANN ARBOR, Michigan, March 4, 2010 ( – Another new study has added to the compelling evidence that cohabitation before marriage significantly increases relationship instability. Dr. Pamela J. Smock, a research professor at the Population Studies Center at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, has published a study in the Journal of Marriage and Family of data gathered on cohabitation in the United States and the implications of cohabitation on relationship stability.

“From the perspective of many young adults, marrying without living together first seems quite foolish,” said Prof. Smock. “Just because some academic studies have shown that living together may increase the chance of divorce somewhat, young adults themselves don’t believe that.”

“Cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first co-residential union formed among young adults,” the study said. “As a result of the growing prevalence of cohabitation, the number of children born to unmarried cohabiting parents has also increased.”

Prof. Smock found that the proportion of women in their late 30s who had ever cohabited had doubled in the last 15 years, from 30 to 61 percent, and that about half of couples who cohabit marry within three years.

However, the study revealed that, with differences based on race and ethnicity taken into account, children born to cohabiting versus married parents have over five times the risk of experiencing their parents’ separation, showing an exponential increase in relationship failure for couples currently or ever cohabiting.

Prof. Smock also found that relationship failure due to cohabitation, from the perspective of the children of these couples, was more prevalent in White couples than with Black or Hispanic couples.

“This difference in union stability is greatest for White children, as compared with Black or Mexican American children. For White children, differences in parents’ education levels, paternal substance abuse, and prior marriage and children account for the higher instability faced by those born to cohabiting parents.”

The study concludes that couples who live together before they get married are less likely to stay married than those who don’t move in together until engagement or marriage.

An abstract of the study “Married and Cohabiting Parents’ Relationship Stability: A Focus on Race and Ethnicity” is available here.

Read related LSN articles:

Study Confirms Cohabitation Leads To Higher Chance Of Divorce and Lower Relationship Quality

Reality Says Cohabitation a Disaster for Marriage but Poll Shows Public Believes Otherwise

Cohabitation is bad for men, worse for women, and horrible for children

Cohabitation Ends in Separation 90% of the Time

Living Together Before Marriage Has Disastrous Results Study Finds

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