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Study finds cohabitation leading to delayed marriages in US
Credit: Sugin Ong (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Credit: Sugin Ong (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

.- A federal report on national family growth found that many young adults in the U.S. are postponing marriage and instead choosing “to cohabit with a partner,” despite the fact that doing so increases the likelihood of a later divorce.

“People are marrying for the first time at older ages, and many adults cohabit with a partner before ever marrying,” said a March 2012 National Health Statistics report.

Using data based on the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth, the report analyzed current trends in marriage.

It discovered that in recent years, “women and men married for the first time at older ages than in previous years.”

From 2006 to 2010, the median age for a first marriage was 25.8 for women and 28.3 for men, the report found.

In 1995, women had a 59 percent chance of being married by age 25. In 2006-2010, that probability had dropped to 44 percent.

While the delay in marriage may be partly due to a struggling economy, the report found that premarital cohabitation – or living together in a sexual relationship without being married – has also contributed to the phenomenon. 

The percentage of currently cohabiting women rose from 3 percent in 1982 to 11 percent in 2006-2010, said the report.

It found that many couples are now entering into cohabiting relationships at about the same point as couples entered into marriages in the past.

“Among women, 68% of unions formed in 1997–2001 began as a cohabitation rather than as a marriage,” it added.

This is true despite the fact that studies show cohabitation to be a significant risk factor for divorce.

“It has been well documented that women and men who cohabit with their future spouse before first marriage are more likely to divorce than those who do not cohabit,” the report explained.

It pointed to statistics showing that women who cohabit with their first husband – regardless of whether they were already engaged when they moved in together – have a lower chance of having their marriage last 20 years than women who did not cohabit first.

In general, first marriages in 2006-2010 had a slightly more than 50 percent chance of surviving for 20 years, the report said.

“These levels are virtually identical to estimates based on vital statistics from the early 1970s,” it observed.

The National Center for Health Statistics also found that couples are increasingly likely to have children while they are cohabiting instead of waiting until they are married.

While the average age at first birth has not changed since 2002, first births to cohabiting women increased by 83 percent from 2002 to 2006-2010, it said.  

Acknowledging that marriage has “changed dramatically” in recent decades, the report expressed hope that its findings will lead to studies that “yield new insights into marriage and cohabitation and their effect on adults and children in the United States.”

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