Cohabitation has come a long way in our society. Years ago it was referred to as shacking up, and in some areas “living in sin.” Today, Gen Xers and Millennials are choosing this form over traditional marriage in numbers far above that of their parents. There are many reasons for this. One is a lot of children of the 80s and 90s had divorced parents, and vowed they themselves would never go through it. The cost of going to college and setting up a career both in time and finances make a wedding impractical. The sheer cost of weddings today are astronomical, which is a hard price tag to swallow, since student loan debt and other personal debts are high. Meanwhile, after pushing off marriage and cohabitating for some time, couples just get used to living together, and don’t see the point of going beyond “Facebook official.” Couples who cohabitate see many advantages. They still retain a certain level of independence. What’s more, a person can extricate him or herself from the arrangement without significant cost or legal wrangling. Of course, long-term cohabitation is considered common law marriage in some states. Anyone cohabitating long-term should look into the law, for their own knowledge.
Still, many couples today wonder what advantages, besides tax incentives and for some health insurance coverage, they would warrant by being married? A six year study looked into happiness rates between the married and those who cohabitate, and the results are fascinating. Advocates of marriage say that a relationship cannot have the depth and breadth without the strong commitment a marriage provides. Some studies have also shown health benefits that do not carry over to cohabitators. This study compared the health and wellbeing of married versus cohabitating couples, as well as how much time each partner spent with friends and family. This was a national sample including 2,700 U.S. adults. Participants at the onset were people who were single and not cohabitating. They were questioned in 1987 or 1988, and then followed up with six years later. Researchers examined three particular romantic arrangements: those who went from single to married, those who were cohabitating, and those who had lived together before marriage. They were all compared among seven different aspects: happiness, health, depression, self-esteem, contact with parents, time spent with friends, and the quality of relationship with parents.
In the final analysis several things of interest popped up. In terms of happiness, there was no difference between those who got married without cohabitating, and those who married after living together. In all cases, contact with parents and relationship with parents remained the same. Those who cohabitated first before marriage spent the least amount of time with friends. Whether they got married or not afterward, cohabitators had higher self-esteem than married people. If the couple only stayed together for the six initial years of the study, cohabitators rated happier. Overall with all couples, there was no difference in happiness between married people and those who lived together, whether cohabitators decided to get married or not. Researchers concluded that married people may be healthier because of their ability to be covered under a spouse’s health insurance. Other than that, marriage and cohabitation lined up the same category by category. There was some indication however of additional satisfaction with cohabitators, due to their flexibility and a little extra autonomy. This should be food for thought for anyone considering whether to continue to cohabitate or get married. Though social pressure may be off, expectations fulfilled, and access to health insurance and other incentives gained, if you are expecting it to make you happier, closer to your partner, and more fulfilled, think again, at least as far as this study is concerned.
For more information on cohabitation read, Unmarried to Each Other: The Essential Guide to Living Together as an Unmarried Couple by Dorian Solot and Marshall Miller.