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Couples living together before marriage have less of a chance of tying the knot one day than couples who cohabited 30 years ago, according to a new study by the Center for Family and Demographic Research at Bowling Green State University’s Sociology Department.

Noting a “remarkable increase in prevalence of cohabitation in the past quarter century,” researchers sought to discover how stable cohabiting couples are today as compared to the early 1980s. They also wanted to see how children, race, and education affected relationship stability.

Researchers analyzed the National Survey of Family Growth, as well as data from 707 women who cohabited in the 1980s, and 772 women who cohabited in the late 2000s.

They confirmed what other studies had already found: Cohabitation is generally short-lived.

Half of all first premarital cohabitations dissolve in less than two years.

The study found that, while cohabitation lasts longer in the modern era, “the lengthening of cohabitation results mostly from the declining rate of transitioning to marriage.” In other words, couples who live together are significantly less likely to get married these days.

The new Bowling Green study found that couples who lived together in the new millennium were about half as likely to marry now as other couples who lived together outside marriage three decades ago. They are also more than 20 percent more likely to separate.

That did not surprise David M. Ross — a dean in Toledo, Ohio, who has lectured widely on the impact of cohabitation. He added that a significant number of the couples who ultimately do marry after living together end up getting divorced. Fr. Ross speculates that one reason for the instability of marriages after cohabitation is that cohabitating couples “don’t know each other.”

“In my pastoral experience, I observe many couples have difficulty discussing sensitive topics when living together,” Ross told “Differences in each other’s values only becomes more apparent after they are married.”

To have a successful marriage, couples must have an understanding on vital issues such as family life, children, finances, sex, and faith, Ross said. But couples who are living together are more likely to avoid confronting such potentially divisive issues until they are unavoidable.

Having children together makes the couple stay together longer, according to the new report. The research indicates also that, generally, black couples are less likely to get married than white couples.

The study, titled “Change in Stability of Premarital Cohabitation 1980-2009,” is by Esther O. Lamidi, Wendy D. Manning, and Susan L. Brown of BGSU. Their Center for Family and Demographic Research study was largely funded by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
[12 May 2015, Mark Hodges, Bowling Green, OH,