Debunked: Cohabitating couples not more likely to divorce

By Sarah Bourassa

If you shack up before tying the knot, are you and your mate more likely to split up later?

A new study from the Council on Contemporary Families finds that there is actually little correlation between divorce and living together before marriage. This finding shakes up research from the past 20 years that previously indicated cohabitation increased a couple's chance of divorce.

This may be good news for most couples, since cohabitation has increased by more than 900 percent in the past 50 years, according to Arielle Kuperberg, author of the study and sociologist at The University of North Carolina Greensboro.

The new question you should be asking : How old were you when you first started living together? The study finds that if you move in with your partner before age 23, you are more likely to split up later.

“What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone … before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship,” Kuperberg writes in the report.

Andrew Cherlin, Johns Hopkins sociologist and author of “The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and Family in America Today,” agrees with the study but says there is also a social-class story behind it.

“The people who cohabit early are mostly the ones that will never complete college," he told TODAY. "We know that for several reasons, they have a higher risk of divorce.” 

Those without a college degree tend to move in together more quickly, most likely because they have a greater financial need to share living expenses, Cornell University sociologist Sharon Sassler says. This gives a couple less time to get to know each other and increases the likelihood of ending up in an incompatible relationship.

In a survey of cohabitating couples from 2006-2010, about 70 percent of women with less than a high school diploma lived together before marriage, compared to 47 percent of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Living together before marriage is a growing trend. In fact, two-thirds of new marriages are between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months, according to the research.