Ethics & Religion
April 20, 2017
Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part I
First of two parts
By Mike McManus
Twice as many women now begin living with a man in cohabitation rather
than in marriage, according to the National Center for Health Statistics
(NCHS). Half of women began cohabiting compared to less than a quarter
who married according to interviews with 12,224 women from 2006 to 2010.
Cohabitation is "kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now," says demographer
Casey Coran. As a first union, 48% cohabitated with their male partner
vs. only 23% of first unions that were marriage, down from 39% in 1995.
Also, cohabitation is lasting longer - 22 months is the median duration
up from 13 months in 1996.
Demographers say that education plays a huge role in how these romantic
relationships play out. Cohabitation is much more likely among the less
educated. New data shows 70% of women without a high school degree
cohabited as a first union compared with 47% of those with a college
Also, cohabiting women with higher education are nearly twice as likely
to transition to marriage (53%) compared only 30% for those who did not
graduate from high school, asserts the NCHS study.
Frankly, the situation is much worse than these estimates suggest. In
2015 there were 8.3 million cohabiting couples, and only 2,077,000
marriages in America. Nearly three-fifths (59%) of those marrying were
cohabiting, which would be 1,225,000 cohabiting couples who married.
That means more than 7,000,000 cohabiting couples did NOT marry!
The National Center for Health Statistics may have had 53% of college
educated women tell the researchers that they got married, and 30% of
non-high school graduates. If so, why weren't there at least 3 million
cohabiting couples who married - not 1.2 million?
It is true that cohabiting has become the new norm. Barna conducted a
much more rigorous scientific poll than NCHS with important insights.
"The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is a good idea.
Two-thirds (65%) either strongly of somewhat agree that it's a good idea
to live with one's significant other before getting married compared to
one-third (35%) who disagree.
However, the majority is massively mistaken. My wife and I wrote a book
on this issue, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers.
One myth, widely believed by women, is that if she moves in with him, he
will ask her to marry him. However, the man wants to cohabit for sex,
shared rent and companionship - and to avoid the responsibility
of marriage. When she realizes he is not serious about the relationship,
she moves out. Her self-confidence is shattered, and she may be pregnant
or have a child. Few men want to marry a woman with a child from another
Consider two important facts. First, there were more weddings in 1970
(2,159,000) than the 2,077,000 in 2015, a full 45 years later. The
United States had only 203 million residents in 1970 vs. 319 million in
2014. That's a 63% decline in the marriage rate.
According to the Census, 72% of households were headed by a married
couple in 1960 - but only 48% were led by married couples in 2016.
Again, that's a two-thirds drop in married couples.
A major reason for this plunge is cohabitation. Between 1965 and 1970
only a tenth of couples cohabited before marriage. In fact, in 1960
there were only 430,000 cohabiting couples - but 8.3 million in 2015.
That's a 19-fold increase of couples who are living together without
According to Barna, of those who believe cohabiting is a good idea, 84%
say the major reason to do so is to "test for compatibility."
Why hasn't the huge surge of cohabitation led to MORE marriages, rather
than a two-thirds drop in the marriage rate?
The obvious answer is that people who believe cohabitation is a good
test for compatibility - are flat-out wrong.
As one marriage educator put it, "You can't practice permanence."
What's the long term answer?
Organized religion has got to stand up for what it says it believes -
that the best union of a man and a woman is marriage, not cohabitation.
Every pastor, priest and rabbi in America who is asked by a cohabiting
couple to marry them must insist that the couple move apart for several
months before the wedding.
Surely, Scripture is clear. "Flee fornication," Paul wrote to the
Clergy can warn them, "Couples who marry after living together are more
likely to divorce. So increase your odds of a life-long marriage by
separating for a few months."
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus,
President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous
columns go to
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