Cohabitation vs. Marriage

The following article is adapted from “Cohabitation vs. Marriage,” from the Guide to Family Issues Series of United Families International, published May, 2007.  For more information, go to

Mormon FamilyScientific studies show that cohabitation is inferior as far as social outcomes compared to traditional marriage.  Studies also show that cohabitation is damaging to the well-being of women and children, and a strain on governments that must provide welfare and correction.

Studies show the following regarding cohabitation:

  • People who cohabit are mostly young adults
  • Men with lower incomes are more likely to cohabit
  • People who cohabit are often less traditional with less traditional parents
  • People who cohabit tend to be less religious
  • Cohabitation often occurs with women who have had an out-of-wedlock birth
  • Cohabiting couples often have significant difference in their ages
  • Couples wherein the female is older than the male often cohabit

The top reasons given for cohabiting include the following:

  • Economic advantages
  • Increased sexual opportunities
  • Fear of commitment
  • Time together
  • Easier to dissolve the relationship
  • Experimenting with compatibility
  • As a trial marriage
  • Pressure from the partner
  • Convenience
  • Anti-marriage sentiments

As cohabitation becomes more common, marriage is devalued.  Further devaluation occurs as society, businesses, and governments make concessions for cohabiting couples.  Studies show that cohabitation decreases a couple’s inclination to marry, and that when they do marry, they are much more likely to divorce.  Women and men tend to view cohabitation differently.  Women tend to see it as a step toward marriage.  Men tend to see it as a sexual opportunity without a long-term commitment.  Cohabiting couples who later marry often become insecure, less able to pool resources, less committed, and less faithful than couples who marry without first cohabiting.

By nearly every measure children of cohabiting couples fare less well than children in traditional families.  While married couples tend to be happier and healthier than the population at large, people in cohabiting relationships fare worse, with more infidelity and STD’s, higher rates of violence, higher rates of depression, more disagreements, less happiness, less sexual pleasure, higher rates of abuse, and less emotional satisfaction.

The breakup of a cohabiting relationship is often not easier or less messy than a divorce.  There is no legal framework available to support the couple and the children of the relationship.  Statistics show that after five years, only 10% of cohabiting couple stayed together (p. 21); 55% of first marriages lasted a lifetime.  When cohabiting couples later marry, prior cohabitation increased the likelihood of divorce around 35% (46% in the U.S.).  Virtually no first marriages in the mid-1900’s began with cohabitation.  Today, more than half of first marriages are preceded by cohabitation.

From 1960 to 2000 U.S. population grew by 61%.  Cohabiting couples increased by nearly 1,200%.  An international study reported that within two years, 32.4% of cohabiting couples had separated, while 8.3% of married couples had separated.  No positive contribution of cohabitation to marriage has ever been found (p. 25).

Studies show that couples who cohabit prior to marriage are at 39% greater risk for infidelity within marriage.  Infidelity is common within the cohabiting relationship ─ 20% for cohabiting women, and 4% for married women. Cohabiting partners were found in one study to be twice as likely to be unfaithful as married people.

Domestic violence is much more common among cohabiting couples than among married couples.  U.S. and Canadian women in cohabiting relationships are nine times more likely to be killed by their partner.  Aggression is at least twice as common for cohabiting couples as for married couples.  Children fare better being raised by a single parent than with a cohabiting couple.  When children of cohabiting couples are compared with children of married couples, the children of cohabiting couples fare worse in every area.  “Evidence suggests that the least safe of all environments for children is that in which the mother is living with someone other than the child’s biological father.  This is the environment for the majority of children in cohabiting couple households” (p. 31).

The poverty rate for children in cohabiting couple households is five times the poverty rate for children in married couple households.  Family structure is the strongest predictor of urban violence in the U.S.

“A major problem with cohabitation is that it is a tentative arrangement that lacks stability; no one can depend upon the relationship ─ not the partners, not the children, not the community, nor the society” (p. 27).