New study: cohabitation produces far inferior outcomes to marriage

Does government provide incentives for people to get married?
Is cohabitation the same thing as a lifelong marriage commitment?

This study is from the American College of Pediatricians.

The Stream writes about the study:

The American College of Pediatricians recently published a paper, Cohabitation, which cautions adolescents and young adults about the negative consequences of cohabitation for both themselves and their children, and urges parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage.

More young people are now first cohabiting than are marrying without prior cohabitation, yet research shows that, rather than being a stepping-stone to a healthy marriage, living together before marriage (cohabitation) makes couples more likely to break-up and more likely to divorce if they do marry. It results in lower marital satisfaction and increased negative communication.  Cohabiting couples spend less time together; men are more likely to spend their time on personal pleasure than do married men.

Commitment failure:

Cohabiting couples are now less likely to later marry than 40 years ago. Controlling for other factors that increase risk of divorce, marriages preceded by cohabitation are still 50 percent more likely to end in divorce.  (Some recent studies challenge this, but are scientifically flawed and omit the raw data.)  Also 27 percent of cohabitations dissolve without marriage in the first three years.

Domestic violence:

Cohabiters commit increased violence against their partner. Women are nine times more likely to be killed by a cohabiting partner than by their husband. Severe violence is four times as common among cohabiting couples; any violence is nearly 50 percent more common among couples cohabiting before marrying and doubled among couples continuing to cohabit after five years.

Alcohol abuse:

Men who cohabit without marrying in 5 to 10 years have more than double the rate of alcohol abuse as married men; women who cohabit without marrying have 4 to 7 times the rate of alcohol abuse as married women.


Cohabiters, both men and women, have rates of infidelity in the preceding year more than triple that of married spouses. Among the married, those cohabiting prior to marriage were 50 percent more likely to be unfaithful as those marrying without cohabiting.


Poverty is more common among cohabitating women and their children. Their male partners have both a higher unemployment rate (15 percent vs 8 percent), and work less hours if employed.


Cohabitating women are ten times more likely to have an abortion than married women, and suffer from its associated mortality and morbidity. In fact, 89 percent of women who have had abortions have at one time cohabited; 40 percent have lived with three or more men. Abortion also puts future children at risk, especially from extremely premature birth.

Harm to children:

Children who survive also suffer due to parental cohabitation.  They have increased risk of losing a parent to divorce or separation, possibly multiple times.  Children born of cohabiting parents are over four times more likely to suffer separation of their parents by their third birthdays (49 percent) than those born to married parents (11 percent).

[…]Nearly one-third of couples enter into cohabitation with a child from a previous relationship, as do half of those cohabitating for six years or longer. Children living with a parent and unmarried partner (live-in boyfriend) have 20 times the risk of sexual abuse and eight times the risk of all maltreatment compared to children living with married biological parents.  Even if the couple marries, stepchildren have over eight times the risk of sexual abuse and triple the overall risk of abuse of neglect. Girls living with a stepparent had 60 percent higher risk of being raped than girls living with their biological parents.


Women in cohabiting relationships have more depression than married women, and poorer responsiveness to their children’s emotional needs.  Children whose mothers are depressed have increased cortisol responses to stress (which may explain their increased hypertension in adulthood). Children with unmarried mothers are half as likely to be breastfed, leading to higher rates of asthma, pneumonia, ear and intestinal infections, diabetes, obesity, and lower intelligence.

Please believe me when I say that you should click through to the Stream and read the entire article.

So what do I want to say about this in my 500 words? Well, I want to say that the cohabitation issue is a good opportunity for us to reason about whether there should be any rules around sexuality and relationships.

Our culture is absolutely poisoned right now with a kind of feelings-oriented non-judgmentalism that prevents debate. Everything has been reduced to people feeling “offended” and using the power of government to stifle debate. Nowhere is this more evident than on the university campus, which is the source of the problem. This hyper-tolerance and emotional non-judgmentalism leaves people open to making poor decisions that cause self-destruction and harm to others. As a result, young people are blindly accepting a script for sexuality and relationships from the culture, e.g. – Hollywood, celebrities, and ideologically-driven academics. A script made by professional story-tellers insulated from the consequences of their ideas.

As Christians, we seem to have so much trouble talking to young people about rules around sexuality and relationships. So many young people think that premarital sex is benign. That cohabitation is no big deal. And that redefining marriage cannot be opposed. Christian parents and pastors are not preparing themselves to discuss these things with young people. If there is a battle of ideas, and one side shows up with a bunch of feelings and lies, that side still wins – if the other side doesn’t show up at all. Don’t be so focused on your career and your own self that you fail your children by failing to discuss and debate with them about the issues. Don’t assume that just because your children look OK on the surface that there are not serious questions underneath.

There is so much I could say about this problem of talking to young people. As I argued in a previous post, I truly believe that apologists should not neglect these social / cultural / fiscal issues. We have to study them and know how to argue for our values using secular arguments and evidence, such as you see in the study above. Once young people have decided that Christian teachings on sexuality (e.g. – chastity, courting) are primitive and irrational, or worse, then getting them to accept Christianity becomes that much harder. And that goes double for marriage. If they think that cohabitation, no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage and gay adoption are opposed for no other reason than blind prejudice or even hatred, then we’ve lost before we even begin to make our first philosophical argument.

7 thoughts on “New study: cohabitation produces far inferior outcomes to marriage”

  1. Wondering if the study examines the cohabiting couples religious affiliation? if the cohabiting couples were Christian or not?

  2. WK,

    I am aware of this. I just wanted to know if she (the researcher) did a religious affiliation section/choice on her survey? It would be interesting to know how many of these surveyed individuals/couples clicked Christian, Baptist, Catholic, Evangelical, Non-denominational, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhists, No Religious Affiliation, etc.

    My wife and I lived together for 3.5 years before we were married (we have been married for 12.5 years now), and we identified ourselves as weak,non-denominational Christians (at that time, we very rarely went to church, read our bibles, etc.). After being married in a Lutheran Church, (and I was baptized in a Baptist Church), we are happy to say that we are Non-Denominational Christians, regularly attend and give our tithe & offerings to a Non-Denominational Church, read & study our bibles and pray (sometimes 2-3 times a day) every day, and share the Word with complete strangers.

    We don’t encourage anyone to cohabit/sin like we did, but God’s grace & mercy was (and still is) upon us (while we were not only in our sin, but knowingly continue to sin) to become stronger Christians (not drinking milk anymore, but eating solid food), and to remain together with 4 beautiful children.

    1. Same here RWL. We were teaming as truck drivers and I rolled the truck. We did not sustain any major injuries, I had two broken ribs, she had minor bleeding in her forehead that was not serious and the swelling reduced rather quickly. We had a full load of food and only lost 1/4 of it. The damage was minimal. The truck was back on the road in about 6 mo and was the trailer.

      Being a Christian, I knew better. I took the whole accident as a wake up call, to get it right. We remained celibate until we got married a few months later. We are now heading into our 15th year married. We have been serving the Lord faithfully at our church now for almost 5 years. Being truck drivers for some time, it took us a while to find a solid Bible teaching church. The rest will be our history.

      However, I do not condone living together but it is hard to speak about what I believe if we started off that way. Nonetheless, Christians are to abstain from sexual relationships before marriage, that is His word. I do not have excuses, I was outside of the Lord and almost paid for it dearly. His grace and mercy allowed me to see what I was doing and make the right change, Repentance was the only alternative.

        1. Yes it does. It is a shame that, at least for me, that my thickheaded ways fail to see it daily. I guess that’s the German in me…LOL

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s