CDC’s Take on Cohabitation

The CDC recently undertook the complex task of quantifying cohabitation based on results from a 4-year survey of heterosexual US adults (age 18-44). We have learned a lot from these numbers and we think this data (and our interpretations of the numbers) can help you with your participants.

After working with the raw data, and doing a little math, we estimate that 64.5% of the population has cohabited with a romantic partner at some point outside of marriage and this number is increasing. Increasing rates might not be a huge concern among participants, except for a few considerations that are important to highlight when this subject comes up:

  • Raising children: Almost all of the increase in non-marital births in the U.S. (6% in 1980 to 25% by 2013) has taken place in the context of cohabiting unions and we know that cohabiting parents are much more likely than married parents to break up, resulting in increasing odds of family instability.
  • Economic hardship: Prior research has shown that serial cohabitation (particularly with cohabiting relationships not leading directly to marriage) is strongly associated with being more economically disadvantaged, on average
  • Getting stuck: Because of the inertia of living together, some people get stuck longer than they otherwise would in relationships. This may be a large part of the reason why, on average, couples who cohabit before either being married or having clear plans to marry their partner have increased the odds of poor marital outcomes.
Woman looking out window
Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

Social attitudes toward cohabiting are certainly changing. In fact, based on a recent survey, a majority of people believe that living together actually helps improve the quality of marriage overall (i.e., “it’s a great way to test the relationship before committing.”), but it’s important to note that is no evidence to support this commonly held belief. In fact, after looking at the list above, you might find that there’s more evidence to the contrary.

Facilitators and chaplains might take this latest data and use it to help people think through their major Decisions with all the best information available rather than Slide into a situation that isn’t right for them.

If you are interested in reading more about Dr. Stanley and Dr. Rhoades’ research on cohabitation trends, see:

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This is an image and a hyperlink to Dr. Stanley’s Sliding vs Deciding Blog Site


For the full CDC report, please visit the CDC’s National Health Statistics Report.

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