Friday, October 2, 2009

To Live… or Not to Live (Together)?

Originally written September 2008

Today, it is pretty much the norm for people to date, move in together, and then get married. It seems like everyone does it, so there probably isn't much harm in it. But what is actually the case?

Unfortunately, there isn't much data to support the idea that living together prior to marriage is a good idea. I am not going to attempt to analyze it or present any theories I have about it. I am just going to present the data, and you can take it as it is.

A study by Columbia University found that only 26% of women and 19% of men are currently married to the person they were once living with. That means that for every 100 couples that are living together, approximately 78 of those couples will not end up married to each other.

A more comprehensive National Survey of Families and Households study found about 40% of relationships in which the couple lives together, break up before the couple gets married. This is based on interviews with 13,000 different people.

So we can conclude fairly confidently that living together prior to marriage is not a good idea, when it comes to protecting your relationship. But what about the couples who live together, and do end up getting married? Are they better off because of it?

Well, in a study by Cornell University, it was found that women who married their boyfriends that they had been living with were 28% LESS likely to get a divorce than women who had not lived with their boyfriends.

Western Washington University surveyed 6,577 women who lived with their boyfriends prior to marriage, and found that they had no greater risk of divorce than women who did not live with their boyfriends prior to marriage. However, it was also found that if a women lived with someone else, in addition to her eventual husband, then there was indeed a high risk of divorce.

However, the National Survey of Families and Households found that based upon a survey of 3,300 different families, couples who had lived together prior to marriage were 46% more likely to get divorced than couples who did not live together prior to marriage.

Another study from Yale University found that women who live with their boyfriends prior to marriage were 80% more likely to get divorced than women who did not live with their boyfriends prior to marriage.

And Rutgers University found that unmarried couples who lived together reported having lower levels of happiness, lower levels of sexual exclusivity, lower levels of sexual satisfaction and were three times more likely to suffer from depression.

So apart from the study by Cornell, and somewhat by WWU, most of the data seems to suggest that your chance of divorce goes way up when you live together prior to marriage.

Of course, we need to be careful, and remember that correlation does not equal causation. There could be a third variable.

For a fantastic resource with data regarding relationships, marriage, divorce, etc. go here. You can read all of their research findings, under the "Publications" link.


  1. No comments on this?? I am curious what real people have to say (as opposed to random statistics). I think if a couple is going to divorce, it most likely has nothing to do with when they live together. If they can't stand each other, then living together is a good way to find that out. Better before marriage than after. I can't imagine waiting until you're married can in any way cause a better marriage (or less of a chance of divorce). Did any of these studies comment on when they asked the couples? In other words, was it two years after the wedding or twenty... that makes a big difference. If you live with someone for two years, marry them, and divorce after two more years is that not the same as a couple that waits til marriage to live together and then divorces after four years? See what I mean? Time is very telling in these studies.

    1. I have read before that people living together before marriage often (even maybe unconsciously) don't act like their true selves, as they are still trying to impress their bf/gf.

      But like I said, these studies show a correlation, not necessarily a causal link between living together before marriage and divorce rates.

      All of your other questions are very good, and I don't know the answer to them. But it would be interesting to find out!