Marriage Beats Cohabitation
Special Report - March 5, 2010
The majority of first marriages in the United States last 10 years or longer, while most first cohabitating relationships end within three years, according to a new study from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The study, “Marriage and Cohabitation in the United States: A Statistical Portrait Based on Cycle 6 (2002) of the National Survey of Family Growth,” was released February 2010. In addition to confirming previous studies that show that marriage is more stable and healthy for adults and children than cohabitation, the NCHS report notes that both men and women are “likely” to cohabit prior to their first marriage (28 percent of men and women do so), and about two-fifths of children in the U.S. will spend at least some of their growing up years in a cohabiting household.
According to the report, about two-thirds of first marriages last 10 years or longer, while one-third of first marriages end in divorce or separation before their 10-year anniversary. In comparison, only one-fourth of men’s cohabiting relationships and one-third of women’s cohabiting relationships are estimated to last three or more years (the NCHS estimates that about half of cohabiting relationships will “transition” to marriage within three years).
However, the study shows that couples that cohabit prior to marriage have a greater likelihood of divorce than those who do not. For example, the probability that a woman’s marriage will last 10 years or longer is 60 percent if she has ever cohabited, compared to 66 percent if she has not. If a woman cohabited with her current husband, the probability of her marriage lasting at least 10 years is 61 percent, compared to 66 percent if she had not cohabited with her current husband.
Other key findings from the NCHS report include:
- The percentage of women who had ever cohabited doubled between 1987 and 2002, from 30 percent to 61 percent.
- The probability of a woman remaining in a cohabiting union for three years or more is 31 percent, for men it is 24 percent;
- Also, cohabiting women were more likely than married women to have partners who were unemployed, and to have partners with children from a previous relationship.
Copyright © 2010. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.