NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 21, 2005

More American couples are delaying taking a step down the aisle, and instead opting for living together, says USA Today. But sociologists say the impact of cohabitation arrangements is unclear.

Currently, eight percent of U.S. couples are living together without marriage and most unmarried partners living together are between the ages of 25 and 34. But the percentage of couples who cohabitate varies by state.

According to the 2003 American Family Survey:

  • The District of Columbia has the greatest percentage of unmarried couples living together at 13.5 percent, followed by Vermont (12 percent) and Maine (11.9 percent).
  • Utah and Alabama have the smallest percentages, at 4.4 percent.
  • Furthermore, seven states still have lewdness laws on the books (making intimate relations between unmarried persons illegal), but such laws are not usually enforced and are being challenged by civil liberties groups.

Couples cite many reasons for living together, including financial considerations and housing costs, as well as concerns over the high rate of divorce. But men and women tend to view cohabiting arrangements differently. Focus groups indicate that women view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men view it as just a step before making a commitment.

So what happens to cohabitating couples down the road? A 2000 study in the journal Population Studies reveals:

  • Within five years of a live-in relationship, half of couples marry, while 40 percent split up.
  • Another 20 percent continue living together.

Previous studies have shown that living together before marriage increases the risk of divorce, but sociology professor Pamela Smock of the University of Michigan says newer studies may dispute those findings.

Sources: "Cohabitation is Replacing Dating" and "Some Run Afoul of the Law," USA Today, July 18, 2005; Larry Bumpass and Hsien-Hen Lu, "Trends in cohabitation and implications for children's family contexts in the United States," Population Studies, vol. 54, no. 1., and "American Community Survey," U.S. Census Bureau.

For USA Today text:

For U.S. Census American Community Survey:


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