published Sunday, March 30th, 2014

Baumgardner: Trying to debunk 30 years of research

By Julie Baumgardner

Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, claims that her findings in a study on premarital cohabitation debunk 30 years of research. According to Kuperberg, her study shows that couples who cohabit before they marry are no more likely to divorce that anyone else.

Since the 1960s, there has been a 900 percent increase in cohabitation globally. Many people believe that not living together before marriage is a huge mistake, yet there is still no clear evidence that cohabitation has been helpful in creating family stability.

It is a huge deal to claim you have debunked decades worth of study with one piece of research. Scott Stanley at the University of Denver and others have been conducting research on this issue for many years. In his blog, slidingvsdeciding.com, Stanley does an excellent job of breaking down many of the myths surrounding cohabitation and marriage.

"At the heart of it, Kuperberg asserts that scores of researchers have had it wrong for decades, and that maybe there never has been an association between cohabiting and marriage and divorce," Stanley writes in a recent post. "She asserts that what was misunderstood all these years is that cohabiters are more likely to divorce, not because they cohabited, but because they tended to start living together when they were too young to either be making a wise choice in a mate or to take on the roles of marriage. This logic is akin to the well-replicated, robust finding that marrying young is associated with greater odds of divorce. Given that, why wouldn't moving in together at a young age also be a problem?"

Great question.

Kuperberg's study does not show that living together before marriage decreases divorce. At best, it may show that cohabiting before marriage does not increase the risk of divorce for some couples.

In his blog, Stanley describes some of the many issues with cohabiting before marriage that can be associated with difficulty forming lasting love in marriage. If you are considering living together, these are worthy of your consideration:

• Serial cohabitation is associated with greater risk for divorce. Cohabiting with more than just the person you end up marrying is associated with poorer outcomes in marriage.

• Cohabiting with your eventual mate before having clear, mutual plans for marriage is associated with lower marital satisfaction and higher risk for divorce. Among those who are currently cohabiting, those with clear plans for marriage have stronger relationships.

• Cohabiting before having a mutual and clear intention to marry is on the rise. The rate of unplanned pregnancies is much greater among unmarried, cohabiting women than it is among married women.

• The transition into living together is associated with sharply increasing constraints of the sort that make it harder to breakup, yet the kind of commitment (dedication) that is most strongly associated with happy, strong relationships levels off.

To read Stanley's entire blog post, go to http://family-studies.org/time-to-go-ahead-and-shack-up.

If this topic is relevant to your life, before you buy Kuperberg's research hook, line and sinker, learn more about the findings related to cohabitation and consider how they might impact your life and the lives of the ones you love.

Julie Baumgardner is president and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at julieb@firstthings.org.

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