Being unmarried does not necessarily mean living alone. People in committed, intimate, sexual relation­ships but who are not married may decide that living

416 CHAPTER 11 together, or cohabitation, provides a way to share daily life. Cohabitation is becoming an increasingly popular lifestyle choice in the United States as well as in Canada, Europe, Australia, and elsewhere. As you can see in Figure 11.4, cohabitation in the United States has increased 10-fold over the past three decades from 523,000 in 1970 to 5.5 million in 2000, the most recent year extensive data were collected (U. S. Census Bureau, 2003). The age of people who cohabit has also changed. In 1970, the majority of cohabiting couples were adults over age 45; by 2000, the majority were adults between 25 and 44. This age change is related to a combi­nation of increasing age of first marriage and the increased divorce rate since 1970.

Couples cohabit for three main reasons (Benokrai – tis, 2008). Some couples engage in part-time or limited cohabitation, which is usually based on convenience, sharing expenses, and sexual accessibility. There is typically no long-term commitment, and marriage is not usually a goal. Research shows that for most


o. o

I960 1970 1980 1990 2000


FIGURE 11.4 There has been a rapid growth in cohabitation in the United States since 1970. Does it prepare couples for marriage? Read the text to find out.

Source: From U. S. Census Bureau (2003).

American young adult couples, cohabitation is a step toward marriage (King & Scott, 2005). In this pre­marital cohabitation, the couple is actually engaging in a trial marriage. If marriage does not follow, the couple usually separates. Both part-time and premari­tal cohabitation are the most popular forms among young adults. Finally, some couples use cohabitation as a substitute marriage, which is a long-term commit­ment between two people without a legal marriage. Research indicates that this form is especially popular with older couples who may lose financial benefits (e. g., survivor’s benefits from deceased spouses) if they remarry (King & Scott, 2005).

The picture is quite different in most European, South American, and Caribbean countries where cohabitation is a common alternative to marriage for young adults. For example, cohabitation is extremely common in The Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, where this lifestyle is part of the culture; 99% of married couples in Sweden lived together before they married and nearly one in four couples are not legally married. Couples liv­ing together there are just as devoted to each other as are married couples, and they believe that such relationships are grounded in love and commit­ment to each other (Kaslow, Hansson, & Lundblad, 1994). Decisions to marry in these countries are typically made to legalize the relationship after children are born, in contrast to Americans, who marry to confirm their love and commitment to each other.

Cohabitation rates are lower in Africa and Asia. For example, in China, cohabitation is largely limited to rural villages where couples below the legal age for marriage live together (Neft & Levine, 1997).

Interestingly, having cohabitated does not seem to make American or Canadian marriages any better; in fact, it may do more harm than good, resulting in marriages that are less happy and with a higher risk of divorce (Hall & Zhao, 1995). Other research indicates that transitioning to marriage from cohabi­tation does not lessen depression, and concern about getting approval from friends increases distress for cohabitors who marry (Marcussen, 2001). Young adults whose parents divorced are more likely to cohabit, but this effect weakens between the late
teens and early thirties (Cunningham & Thornton, 2007).

Are there differences between couples who cohabit and couples who marry right away? Lon­gitudinal studies find few differences in couples’ behavior after living together for many years regard­less of whether they married without cohabiting, cohabited and then married, or simply cohabited (Stafford, Kline, & Rankin, 2004). No differences are reported in relationships between parents and adult children of married versus cohabiting couples (Daat- land, 2007). Additionally, many countries extend the same rights and benefits to cohabiting couples as they do to married couples, and have done so for many years. For instance, Argentina provides pen­sion rights to cohabiting partners, Canada extends insurance benefits, and Australia has laws governing the disposition of property when cohabiting couples sever their relationship (Neft & Levine, 1997).