Study: Living together before getting engaged/married doesn't equal divorce

Contrary to previous research, which held that couples living together prior to getting engaged/married significantly increased their chances of splitting up down the road, a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics says it really doesn’t matter all that much.

By Josh D. Simon
Updated: October 06, 2014
Study: Living together before marriage doesn

Here’s some surprisingly good news for couples who opt to live together before getting engaged and heading down the altar: researchers and their beloved statistics are in your corner.  

Contrary to previous research, which held that couples living together prior to getting engaged/married significantly increased their chances of splitting up down the road, a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics, based on 2002’s National Survey of Family Growth, paints a much rosier picture: it really doesn’t matter all that much.  

Specifically, researchers surveyed 13,000 men and women between the ages of 15 and 44, and discovered the following:

  • 65% of women who moved in with their future husband after getting engaged – but before getting married -- made it to the 10-year anniversary mark (compared to 66% who waited until they were married);
  • 71% of men who moved in with their future wife after getting engaged -- but before getting married -- made it to the 10-year anniversary mark (compared to 69% who waited until they were married);
  • 55% of couples who moved in together before getting engaged made it to the 10-year anniversary mark.     

Obviously, the study found a 10-16% “marriage success gap” between couples who were engaged/married prior to living together, compared to those who shacked up before a marital commitment was made. Yet while the report’s co-author Bill Mosher agrees that a difference exists, he told USA Today that “they are not huge.”  

And in statistical lingo, given the expectation that the difference would be much greater – and continue to warn couples that living together before getting engaged or married is a bad idea – the not huge difference is a very big deal.

Big enough, in fact, to create some fresh discussion around what makes a successful marriage, and in particular, what couples would benefit from being aware of from day one of their cohabitation – whether that’s as couple, an engaged couple, or a married couple.  As Scott Stanley, co-director of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver told USA Today: “[t]he nature of commitment at the time of cohabitation is what's important."

In other words: couples who go beyond sharing house keys and fridge space – and combine a vision of their shared future – build themselves a sounder marital foundation, and put themselves on a stronger marital path.

(Statistically speaking, of course.)

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By Josh D. Simon| March 04, 2010

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