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7 August 2003
Living Together Before Marriage Leads To Divorce
by George Atkinson

Even though more than 50 percent of couples now do it, compared with only 10 percent thirty years ago, living together before marriage is still linked to higher rates of troubled unions, divorce and separation, Penn State researchers have found.

The Penn State team compared data on 1425 people married between 1964 and 1980 when cohabitation was less common and between 1981 and 1997 when cohabitation was more common. In both groups, cohabiters reported less happiness and more marital conflict than noncohabiters. Also, couples who lived together before marriage were more likely to divorce.

Claire M. Kamp Dush, first author of the study said, "It had been consistently shown in the past that, contrary to the popular belief that living together will improve a person's ability to choose a marriage partner and stay married, the opposite is actually the case."

The study, "The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?," was published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family. Dush's co-authors are Dr. Catherine Cohan and Dr. Paul Amato.

Although all the reasons why cohabitation and troubled unions are related remains unknown, the researchers report that their data and a review of the literature suggest that both personal characteristics and the experience of cohabitation play important roles.

The Penn State team notes that research indicates that people choose riskier partners when cohabiting because they think cohabitation will be easier to break up than marriage. However, once a couple is living together, the fact that they share possessions, pets, and children and have invested time in their relationship may propel them to marry.

Research has also shown that living together in an unconventional relationship can make people less religious and may encourage them to develop problematic relationship skills and to spend less time resolving problems or providing support to their partners.

They write, "A weak commitment to lifelong marriage and less attention to communication skills during cohabitation may carry over into marriage and make couples more vulnerable to the inevitable challenges that couples face over time."




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