In a new paper Bowling Green State University sociologist Karen Guzzo analyzes how the odds of cohabitation leading to either getting married or breaking up have changed over the years. Before getting to her findings, let’s review some of the cohabitation trends she highlights in her report (based on prior studies).
1) The majority of people in their 30s have lived with someone outside of marriage.
2) Cohabitation, rather than marriage, is now the more common form of first union.
3) Fewer marriages than in the past start out with the couple having intentions to marry.i
4) People are more likely than ever to cohabit with multiple partners in succession—what I have called “CohabiDating.”ii
5) More children than ever before are born to cohabiting couples, and this explains most of the rise in the number of children being born out of wedlock.
Guzzo notes, as have others, that cohabiting has become a normative experience in the romantic and sexual lives of young adults. As young adults put off marriage until later in life, cohabitation has inhabited much of the space that used to be made up of married couples. I think this dramatic change in how relationships form matters for at least two reasons. First, many cohabiting couples have children, but they are less likely than married couples to have planned to have childreniii and they are much less likely to remain together after having children.iv That’s not my subject today, but it should not be hard to see why it matters. Second, most people want lasting love in life, and most people still intend to accomplish that in marriage. However, the ways cohabitation has changed in the past three decades make it less likely that people who have that goal will succeed in it. That’s closer to my focus here.
It is obvious that cohabitation has become de-linked from marriage. Guzzo addresses a complicated question related to this change. Is it because all types of cohabiting couples have become less likely to marry or are there subgroups of cohabiters who are driving the increasing disconnect between moving in and moving on in life together?