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Is cohabiting really linked to lower divorce rates?

The short answer is – maybe. Researchers have been back and forth on the issue since the fifties, when it would have arguably been pretty scandalous for an unmarried couple to move in together. Back in those days, studies generally found that couples who cohabited before getting married were subject to a higher rate of divorce for a reason that couldn’t be more straightforward. Social norms didn’t really matter to them, because they were living in a non-traditional set up in the first place, so divorcing wasn’t as unpalatable to them as it might be for other couples whose separation would probably generate some great gossip at the village bake sale.

As times have changed, it’s become increasingly common for young couples to move in together as a trial phase before taking the leap into marriage. This has generally meant that any meaningful link between premarital cohabitation and divorce rates has faded to nothing, and some studies since 2000 have shown it might actually be associated with a lower rate of divorce. The general idea here being that living with someone for five years should give you a pretty good glimpse what they would be like as a husband or wife.

Two studies were published this year that looked at broadly the same set of data but came to completely different conclusions and brought the subject back to the public consciousness. The Journal of Marriage and Family supported much older research, and officially found that couples who lived together before marriage had a lower divorce rate in their first year of marriage but went on to have a higher divorce rate after five years. Just two weeks later the Council on Contemporary Families published their report coming to the exact opposite conclusion about live-in girlfriends and boyfriends: Premarital cohabitation seemed to make couples less likely to divorce!

Part of the problem is how quickly these studies stop being relevant, tracking marriages over a span of twenty years to find divorce rates can only be a reflection of attitudes to divorces up to twenty years ago. Can it really be relied upon for useful data when society has shifted yet again? New research has also suggested cohabiting might not give a full picture of premarital experiences that could affect divorce rates, as the average number of sexual partners before marrying creeps up year on year too.

It looks like we’re not getting a solid answer anytime soon, but knowing your partner’s worst habits as soon as possible can only be a good thing, right? And if all else fails, we offer some very affordable packages.

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