Many parents and churches have long advocated that unwed couples avoid living together before marriage. Now even secular research has shown that it can have severe drawbacks. The New York Times chimed in on the subject April 14 with an opinion piece entitled, “The Downside of Cohabiting Before Marriage.”
The article’s author, Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia, noted that couples have expectations that living together will increase their chances of successful marriage, and are distraught to find otherwise:
Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.
The National Marriage Project — a nonpartisan, nonsectarian initiative funded by private foundations, which provides research on the state of marriage in America — recently conducted a survey about different aspects of marriage. Its key finding about cohabitation? “The number of unmarried couples has increased dramatically over the past four decades. Most younger Americans now spend some time living together outside of marriage.”
According to Jay's New York Times article, cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1500 percent in the last 50 years, with more than 7.5 million unmarried couples now living together, compared with 450,000 in 1960. Jay opined that cohabitation was on the rise due to the sexual revolution of the '60s, widespread access to birth control, and the appeal of sharing expenses. Now, however, she notes that couples in their 20s add to those factors the additional view of cohabitation as prophylaxis — that is, they think it will help prevent divorce.
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