Does Premarital Cohabitation Predict Subsequent Marital Stability and Marital Quality? A Meta-Analysis

By Jose, Anita; O'Leary, K. Daniel et al. | Journal of Marriage and Family, February 2010 | Go to article overview

Does Premarital Cohabitation Predict Subsequent Marital Stability and Marital Quality? A Meta-Analysis


Jose, Anita, O'Leary, K. Daniel, Moyer, Anne, Journal of Marriage and Family


Cohabitation with a romantic partner has become common in recent decades. This meta-analysis examined the link between premarital cohabitation and marital stability (k = 16) and marital quality (k = 12). Cohabitation had a significant negative association with both marital stability and marital quality. The negative predictive effect on marital stability, however, did not remain when only cohabitation with the eventual marital partner was analyzed, suggesting that these cohabitors may attach more long-term meaning to living together. Moderator analyses demonstrated that effects of cohabitation have remained consistent over time, despite the fact that cohabitation has become more normative.

Key Words: cohabitation, divorce, meta-analysis, relationship processes, relationship quality.

Although premarital cohabitation may have been viewed as scandalous a few decades ago, it has become much more socially acceptable for individuals in close relationships. For instance, about 500,000 individuals were living with their romantic partner in 1970 (Brown, 2004b). Only 30 years later, however, about 10 times as many people (4.9 million) were living with atheir romantic partner of the opposite sex, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2000). The considerable increase suggests the shifting of trends in the landscape of American close relationships.

Cohabitation has captured the attention of social scientists, with research on cohabitation burgeoning in the 1980s. The current metaanalytic review focuses on cohabitation within the context of marital relationships. Because same-sex couples are not yet universally able to enter into legal marriage, systematic analysis of premarital same-sex cohabitation is beyond the scope of this article. Interested readers are referred to research by Lawrence Kurdek and others (Gottman, Levenson, & Gross, 2003; Kurdek, 1988, 1992).

Cohabitation has become more common over time (Manning & Smock, 2002; Schoen, 1992), yet the results of studies investigating its associated marital outcomes are mixed. Some research on long-term cohabitors (those who do not necessarily go on to marry someone) indicates their relationships are indeed less stable, less committed, and have lower relationship quality compared to marriages (Brown, 2004b; Bumpass & Sweet, 1989; Nock, 1995; Sarantakos, 1991; Stafford, Kline, & Rankin, 2004). Other research, however, has found that longterm cohabitors do not have more negative relationship trajectories than married individuals (Bouchard, 2006; Newcomb & Bentler, 1980a). Some cohabitors may view their relationship as an alternative to marriage: a long-term, stable relationship outside of the legal confines of marriage, which may reflect the decreasing prominence of the institution of marriage (Smock, 2000). Cohabitation may also be conceptualized as an alternative to singlehood (Rindfuss & VandenHeuvel, 1990), implying that the cohabitation relationship may be the progression of a dating relationship but without assuming relationship stability.

Cohabitation can also be viewed as a step in the mate selection process: Many individuals date and then decide to cohabit, often with the intention of eventually marrying (Cohan & Kleinbaum, 2002). This conceptualization is buttressed by evidence that cohabitation is increasingly becoming a transition into marriage. About 55% of American marriages in the early 1990s were preceded by cohabitation compared to about 10% of marriages between 1965 and 1974 (Bumpass & Lu, 2000; Bumpass & Sweet, 1989). More recent data suggest that half of ever-married women between the ages of 15 and 44 had cohabited before marriage (Bramlett & Mosher, 2002). Internationally, 75% of married couples in Australia cohabit before marriage (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2004). In Norway, approximately 90% of individuals cohabit before their first marriage (Ministry of Children and Family Affairs, 2004, as cited in Hansen, Mourn, & Shapiro, 2007), reflecting the high rates of cohabitation in Scandinavian countries.

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