Soaring Cohabitation Risky?

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), August 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Soaring Cohabitation Risky?


Byline: Michael J. McManus, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Census estimates the number of unmarried heterosexual couples who cohabit has reached a startling 6.4 million couples in 2007. That figure is for a given month. Over a year's time perhaps 10 million couples live together while only 2.2 million marry. According to a USA Today/Gallup Poll, 49 percent of America said living together makes divorce less likely, 13 percent said it made no difference, while only 31 asserted divorce was more likely.

These are widely shared opinions, which is why two-thirds of those who marry are now living together, as my wife and I reported in our new book, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. However, our review of studies on the issue revealed cohabiting couples do increase their odds of divorce compared to those who remained apart.

We quote Dr. Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan, who reviewed all the studies published up to 2000, and came to this conclusion: Common sense suggests that premarital cohabitation should provide an opportunity for couples to learn about each other, strengthen their bonds, and increase their chances for a successful marriage. ... The evidence, however, suggests just the opposite Premarital cohabitation tends to be associated with lower marital quality and to increase the risk of divorce. ... The degree of consensus about this central finding is impressive In a 2007 interview, she confirmed her conclusion.

Yet when USA Today interviewed her, she said, The evidence is a lot more mixed. USA Today quotes Dr. Jay Teachman of Western Washington University in Bellingham, who found that a woman who has lived only with her future spouse has no greater risk of divorce, while those who lived with more than one partner have a greater divorce risk.

However, Professor Brad Wilcox of the University of Virginia, countered: The problem is there is no way to know that the person you are cohabiting with is your lifelong spouse until you have gotten married. The only way to guarantee that your cohabiting partner is your first spouse is to wait until you are married.

He quotes Daniel Lichter, another expert cited by USA Today, who wrote in 2006, that a majority of cohabitants will end up in a breakup rather than a marriage.

True. Look at the numbers above. Some 6.4 million couples were cohabiting at any moment in 2007, but only 2. …

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