Cohabitation Nation; Growing Trend Results in Declining Household Stability

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 22, 2010 | Go to article overview

Cohabitation Nation; Growing Trend Results in Declining Household Stability


Byline: Janice Shaw Crouse, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Acccording to the latest census report, the num- ber of cohabiting couples escalated from 6.7 million in 2009 to 7.5 million just one year later. Living together has become today's normative expe- rience, with nearly 50 percent of young adults aged 20 to 40 cohabiting. Moreover, the percentage of women in their late 30s who said they had cohabited at least once reached 48 percent in 1995. While increasingly common among college students and young professionals - even Britain's Prince William and Kate Middleton, who have just announced their engagement, have been living together in Wales - cohabitation is significantly more prevalent among those who are less well-educated and poor.

For many American young people, cohabitation is considered to be a low-cost, no-hassle alternative to marriage, a test-drive in some cases or, more often, merely an exciting fling of no great consequence. Sadly, they have bought into the seductive cohabitation mythology. It is commonplace to hear them parroting the following specious arguments: (1) Living together is a trial marriage to test the waters to see if the couple is compatible. (2) Young couples cannot afford to get married; they need to wait until they are financially secure and their careers are well-established. (3) A girl should be able to have the big, expensive wedding that fulfills her childhood dreams. And on and on the deceptive fable gets spun.

Many blame the current economy for the drastic increase in cohabitation (a 13 percent rate that will double the numbers in just six years) - and it is true that there was a 10 percentage point increase in the number of unemployed men who chose to cohabit instead of get married (14 percent in 2009 versus 24 percent in 2010). However, the problem began long before today's recession. There has been a dramatic increase (skyrocketing nearly 1,000 percent since 1970) in couples who live together without marriage, and currently, nearly two-thirds of couples who get married have already lived together before their wedding.

The trend toward cohabitation is producing a cultural transformation that has profound ramifications for both individuals and communities. Young people have been told that having sex is no big deal ; therefore, moving in and living together without a commitment (aka no strings attached) is more prevalent, as is an accompanying casual acceptance of recreational sex.

Of American women born before 1963, fewer than half experienced premarital sex in their teen years, but like so many other measures of sexual activity, the number engaging in premarital sex jumped dramatically among those born in the 1990s.

The truth is that only a fraction - barely 10 percent - of cohabiting couples are able to move on to build strong, happy marriages that last a lifetime. More typically, cohabitation is preparation for divorce rather than training for marriage. The two household arrangements (cohabitation and marriage) are decidedly different, and that is why the vast majority of couples who live together before getting married end up divorced; the divorce rates of women who cohabit are nearly 80 percent higher than the rates of those who do not. …

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