Cohabitation: A Growing Problem – Part I

Mike McManus, Ethics & Religion

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 degree.

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?