More Americans are living together before marriage, study finds

The number of couples who live together before marriage continues to rise, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
(Jennifer S. Altman / For The Times)

Americans are increasingly saying “I do” to living together before marriage, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In fact, cohabitation is now more common among younger women than living with a spouse or living alone.

The report, released Thursday, is based on data from the CDC’s National Survey of Family Growth. More than 12,000 women between the ages of 15 and 44 took part in the survey between 2006 and 2010. (So did more than 10,000 men, but the new study focuses on the women.)


Among the women, 48% told interviewers that they were living with their significant other but were not married to them. In 1995, only 35% of women were cohabiting with their partners, according to a previous edition of the survey.

On the flip side, fewer couples are now waiting until they’re married to move in together. Only 23% of the women who answered the survey between 2006 and 2010 said they got married first, down from 39% in 1995. (The proportion of women who were not living with a boyfriend or husband has held steady in the 27%-to-29% range during this time.)

Couples aren’t only cohabiting more often than in the past, they’re doing it much longer, the study found. The women in the most recent survey averaged 22 months for their first stint at living together (after which they either got married or broke up). Back in 1995, the average length of cohabitation was 13 months, the researchers reported.

For 40% of the women surveyed between 2006 and 2010, these live-in relationships led to marriages, according to the study. That conversion rate was higher for white women (44%), for Latinas who came to the U.S. from other countries (42%), and for women with a college degree (53%). But not everyone made it to the altar within three years of moving in together -- 32% of couples were still cohabiting, and 27% of couples split up.

The cohabitation trend was pretty widespread, but some women were more likely to give it a try than others. Women who dropped out of high school were most likely to move in with a boyfriend -- 70% said they had done so, the study found. So did 65% of Latinas born in the U.S. and 57% of white women.

In fact, living together has become more common since 1995 for all ethnic and racial groups except Asians, the researchers reported.

The older women got, the more likely they were to have tried it. A majority (55%) of women said they had lived with a boyfriend by age 25; by the time those women turned 30, a full 74% had cohabited.

Women living with their significant others are also more likely to get pregnant now than in years past, the researchers found. Back in 1995, only 15% of unmarried, cohabiting couples got pregnant; between 2006 and 2010, that figure was 19%.

Among women who moved in with a significant other before they turned 20, 25% became pregnant before they got married. But among women over 30, 8% got pregnant before marriage, the study found. The pregnancy rate for women who didn’t finish high school was 33%, compared with 5% of women who finished college.

Overall, getting pregnant was less likely to lead to marriage than in years past. Between 2006 and 2010, 19% of pregnancies prompted couples to get married. In 1995, 32% of pregnancies led to marriages, the researchers reported.

The results dovetail with a report last month that found Americans were waiting longer than ever to get married for the first time. Researchers from the University fo Virginia’s National Marriage Project and others reported that the average age of first-time brides was 26.5 years and for bridegrooms was 28.7 -- both historic highs.

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