April 28, 2000

Last week USA Today tackled the contemporary issue of cohabitation in their Life section. They pointed out that more than 4.2 million couples now live together in America. In fact, more than 50 percent of opposite-sex couples who get married have lived together first. But what the series of articles didn't say was that couples who decide to test-run their marriage may actually cause significant harm to a marriage.

Sociologists David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead released their study through the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. Their study confirms earlier studies about the danger of cohabiting, and adds additional detail.

They found that cohabiting appears to be so counterproductive to long-lasting marriage that unmarried couples should avoid living together, especially if it involves children. Whitehead says that living together is "a fragile family form that poses increased risk to women and children."

Part of the reason for the danger is the difference in perception. "Women tend to see [living together] as a step toward eventual marriage, while men regard it more as a sexual opportunity without the ties of long-term commitment." And people who live together in uncommitted relationships may be unwilling to work out problems, and instead will seek less fractious relationships with a new partner.

In 1960, only about 439,000 couples lived together. That number is now over 4.2 million--a ten-fold increase in forty years. The reasons for the growth are many: fewer taboos against premarital sex, earlier sexual maturity, later marriage, adequate income to live apart from their families.

Whatever the reasons for cohabiting, this study documents the dangers. Couples who live together are more likely to divorce than those who don't. They are less happy and score lower on well-being indices, including sexual satisfaction. USA Today may be reporting that millions are living together, but this study says it's a bad idea.

I'm Kerby Anderson of Probe Ministries, and that's my opinion.