Well Being

More Couples Than Ever Shacking Up—And Showing Healthy, Long-Term Relationships Don’t Require Marriage Papers

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Presently living with a partner and not married? Despite what Cosmo and other mags of that nature may say about females' perpetual hope that a guy will “pop the question,” more couples than ever are living together before marriage or without marriage in the mix whatsoever, according to a new study using national data.

“Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union,” stated lead author, demographer Casey Copen. “It's kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.”

For almost half of women ages 15-44, their “first union” was cohabitation rather than marriage, says the report from the National Center for Health Statistics. For less than one-quarter, the first union was marriage.

 

The report was based on in-person interviews conducted between 2006 and 2010 with 12,279 women ages 15-44.

The new data show 70% of women without a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared with 47% of those with a bachelor's degree or higher. Among women ages 22-44 with higher education, their cohabitations were more likely to transition to marriage within years (53%), compared with 30% for those who didn't graduate high school.

Researchers also saw that 19% of women studied became pregnant, giving birth in the first year of their first unmarried cohabitation. Sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins says this is an emerging trend:

“What we're seeing here is the emergence of children within cohabiting unions among the working class and the poor. They have high standards for marriage and they don't think they can meet them for now, but increasingly, it's not stopping them from having a child. Having children within cohabiting unions is much more common among everybody but the college educated.”

In addition to marital stresses, the factor of how incredibly expensive weddings can be and all the pressure to have the biggest, best one probably affect how people in their twenties and thirties — many of whom came into the job market during the economy's collapse — see marriage.

I have only sort of lived with one boyfriend in the past, and it was nice but not for me. It definitely did not “transition to marriage.” I like my own space, my own room and to be totally alone whenever I feel like it without having to worry about discussing how many almost-expired foods are in the fridge or why I sometimes hang my underwear in the shower. That said, I would much prefer to live with somebody prior to getting married (if I ever wind up doing that) than waiting until after the wedding. And in the event I found somebody to share my life with and we opted not to wed, I'm sure we would still live together, as I believe that spending your days together is about commitment rather than ceremonial traditions.

As Jezebel points out, there are likely to be plenty of folks who will blame various groups and the “decline of traditional marriage values” for this shift, but to me, it's not a negative thing at all that people are living together before marriage or sans marriage, and unwed parents having kids isn't an issue to me, either. There are plenty of married couples who aren't ready to have children, aren't good parents, aren't good together, were not prepared for marriage, etc. who felt pressured into being married despite perhaps not wanting it. Instead of focusing on marriage itself, we should be focusing our attention on having solid, healthy relationships with our partners, our children and ourselves.

Photo: Shutterstock

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