Cohabitation: The marriage enemy
cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Fri Aug 4 16:19:59 EDT 2000
subject: Cohabitation: The marriage enemy
from: Smart Marriages
07/28/00- USA Today Editorial
Cohabitation: The marriage enemy
Hollywood stars are doing it. Most American young people are doing it.
Even some politicians now do it. When blushing brides and dashing grooms
walk down the aisle today, more than half have already lived together.
Cohabitation is replacing marriage as the first living-together
experience for young men and women.
For today's young adults, the first generation to come of age during the
divorce revolution, living together seems like a good way to achieve some
of the benefits of marriage without the risk of divorce. Couples who live
together can share expenses and learn more about each other. They can
find out whether their partner has what it takes to be married. If things
don't work out, breaking up is easy to do. Cohabiting couples do not have
to seek legal or religious permission to dissolve their union.
Not surprisingly, young adults strongly favor cohabitation. But a careful
review of the available social science evidence suggests that living
together is not a good way to prepare for marriage or to avoid divorce.
What's more, it shows that the rise in cohabitation is not a positive
family trend. Cohabiting unions tend to weaken the institution of
marriage and pose clear dangers for women and children.
Specifically, the research indicates that:
Living together before marriage increases the risk of divorce. One study
found an increased risk of 46%. Living together outside marriage
increases the risk of domestic violence for women and the risk of
physical and sexual abuse for children. One study found that the risk of
domestic violence for women in cohabiting relationships was double that
in married relationships; the risk is even greater for child abuse.
Unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and well-being than
We recognize the larger social and cultural trends that make cohabiting
relationships attractive to many young adults today. Unmarried
cohabitation is not likely to go away. Given this reality, we offer four
principles consistent with the available evidence that may help guide the
thinking of pre-marrieds on the question "Should we live together?"
1) Consider not living together at all before marriage. There is no
evidence that if you decide to cohabit before marriage you will have a
stronger marriage than those who don't live together, and there is some
evidence to suggest that if you live together before marriage, you are
more likely to divorce.
2) Don't make a habit of cohabiting. Multiple cohabiting is a strong
predictor of the failure of future relationships.
3) Limit cohabitation to the shortest possible period of time. The longer
you live together with a partner, the more likely it is that the
low-commitment ethic of cohabitation will take hold, the opposite of what
is required for a successful marriage.
4) Do not cohabit if children are involved. Children need and should have
parents who are committed to staying together.
By all the empirical evidence at our disposal, the practice of
cohabitation, far from being a friend of marriage, looks more and more
like its enemy. Yet marriage remains a cornerstone of a successful
society. In place of more cohabitation, we should be trying harder to
revitalize marriage. Particularly helpful in this regard would be
educating young people about marriage from the early school years onward,
teaching them how to make the wisest choices in their lifetime mates and
stressing the importance of long-term marital commitment.
David Popenoe is professor of sociology and, with Barbara Dafoe
Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers
University, New Brunswick, N.J. They are authors of the report "Should We
Live Together: What Young Adults Need to Know About Cohabitation before
Marriage?" available online at marriage.rutgers.edu.
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