Living together may seem like a good way to prepare for a successful marriage, but although a Canadian study found an advantage to living together before marriage, it apparently does not hold true the world over.

Yale University sociologist Neil Bennett and his colleagues found that cohabiting women were considerably more likely to separate or divorce than were women who had not lived with their spouses before marriage. The latest findings are based on an analysis of a Swedish survey of more than 4,000 previously or currently wedded women.

In the first two years of marriage, women who had cohabited split from their husbands more than three times as often as women who had not lived with their mates before marriage. Within 10 years of marriage, nearly 20% of the cohabitors and 10% of those who did not cohabit had failed marriages.

Women who spent more than three years living with their future husbands were especially likely to divorce or separate. Such women, the researchers say, may be unsure about or ideologically opposed to marriage, but tie the knot because of pressure from friends or relatives.

Or, Bennett says, "couples who live together for long periods may be more accustomed to the nonconformity implicit in their relationships, and thus it might be easier for them to withstand the social repercussions of divorce."

The researchers believe their analysis is applicable to U.S. couples. They cite other studies showing that differences between married and cohabiting couples are similar in the United States and Sweden, with cohabitors being less likely to pool incomes, own joint property and share leisure activities.

"We are not saying that living together actually causes divorce," Bennett says. "What we are saying is that it appears that couples who live together premaritally are less committed to the values and interests typically associated with marriage and are more inclined to accept divorce."

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