20 May 2022


The Cohabitation Effect: How It Can Impact Family Relationships

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Academic level: University

Paper type: Research Paper

Words: 1550

Pages: 6

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The purpose of this study is to establish effects of cohabitating and family relationships. Cohabitation refers to an arrangement in which a woman and a man who are not married stay together without a formal registration of marriage. In the U.S, cohabitating is viewed as a common step in the dating process today. More than two-thirds of married couples confess that they lived together before their marriage. Couples live together because of internal reasons (time together) and external reasons. However, cohabiting unions are likely to have adverse impacts on the families. Children are at a high risk of physical abuse, drug abuse, emotional and physical pain, and poverty among others. While the cohabiting parents struggle with violence, economic factors, single parenthood, separation, and infidelity. Media has also enlightened the society on the issue of cohabitation. The paper will discuss the reasons for cohabitation, effects of cohabitation and also how media have addressed cohabitation.

Reasons for cohabitation 

Fear of fall out most couples fear divorce, they worry about emotional turmoil which might result from divorce. This makes them doubt whether marriage is worth it. Many people argue that the advantages of marriage are not enough to counter the possible financial and psychological pain of divorce. According to such individuals, cohabitation provides similar benefits exclusive of the possible pain of divorce. 

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Economic advantages : Couples cohabitate to share living expenses and save money. This is due to the rising economy in the United States (Michael, 2004). .

Testing compatibility : Living together before marriage helps couples to learn about each other so as to prepare for the actual marriage. The couples learn about each other’s characters, dislikes, likes and how they operate in their daily lives. This determines whether they can continue with their marriage plans or break up. (Cohan, 2002: 11)

Time together : Couples want to spend more time together and enjoy each other’s company. Probably because they are not ready for commitment yet they are willing to try, or they are in love and don’t want to stay away from each other.

Other reasons why couples cohabitate include they are engaged, don’t want to marry, fear of losing significant financial benefit if they get married, saving for the wedding, no marriage commitment among others.

Effects of cohabitation and family relationships

Impact on Children

Cohabitation has less advantage for children. Scores of couples who live under such arrangements are likely to separate. Children who experience the separation of their parents suffer emotional problems hence are likely to use alcohol or drugs or perform poorly in school. Impacts of cohabitation on children include: 


Children who grow up in a cohabiting arrangement are at a risk of experiencing poverty, housing, and food shortages. The main reason is that cohabiting parents are likely to have lower income, less secure employment and less education. Also, cohabiting parents are prone to separation hence end up being raised in a single parent family increasing the poverty risk. (Bumpass and Lu, 2002: 10)

Adverse Life Outcomes

Children living under such unions often fare worse on education and psychological outcomes as compared to those born in married families. They are likely to suffer depression, drop out of school and use drugs and alcohol. (Michael, 2004:21). 

Child Abuse

Children who stay with cohabiting parents are prone to violence. They are likely to be emotional, physically and sexually abused as compared to those living with their parents. Especially if one parent is biological and the other one is the partner (Bumpass and Lu, 2002:18).

Impact on Cohabiting Couples 

Cohabiting couples are usually faced with challenges in their relationship arrangement, and they experience several problems associated with the cohabitation union that influences their lives negatively. Effects of cohabitation on the couples include: 

Cohabitation Puts Future Marriage at Risk 

Cohabitation relationship is weighed down with problems. Persons involved in this type of union have limited information of their partner; they have known each other within a limited period before moving in. Cohabilitation before marriage is associated to lower dedication, confidence, and less marital satisfaction. Also, couples spend more time on their personal issues and leisure, lack employment, chances of negative communication leading to higher rate of divorce in the future marriage (Stanely et al., 2006:16).


The high percentage of death has been registered among women who are in cohabiting relationships; their partners have killed these women. Violence between the cohabiting couples is rampant and frequently occurs which leads to death if not controlled.

Separation/ Divorce

Cohabitation has reduced marital stability by encouraging individual desires over interdependence related with marriage. Furthermore, there has been an increase in the number of cohabiting couples who end up separating before they get married. (Steffen, 2010:24)


Cohabitation has a high risk of infidelity as compared to marriage. Moreover, those who cohabitated before marriage were expected to commit adultery. Married couples attend religious services together, are committed to their families hence reducing the likelihood of infidelity (Cohan, 2002:32).


Women and men who go into cohabitation have children from their previous relationships, most of the children are as a result of cohabitation. In the United States, the number of women who gave birth and were cohabiting increased from 2006-2008. Cohabitation results to early pregnancy at the time the parents are not yet ready for responsibilities or take the parenting responsibility. (Steffen, 2010:26)

Mortality and Morbidity

Children conceived out of wedlock can either be denied further life through abortion or be born. Abortion is higher in cohabitating women who are not ready to be parents, to take responsibilities or either lack financial stability in their homes. (Steffen, 2010 26)

Media Has Covered How Cohabiting and Family Relationship 

Media has also focused on cohabiting and family relationship since it is an issue that affects the society and needs to be addressed. Media has highlighted the reasons for cohabitation, the age group that cohabitates mostly, and also the effects of cohabitation on families. 

In the United States, cohabitation has risen above 1500 % in the past half century. In 1960, the number of unmarried couples that live together was about 450,000. Today, the number has increased to beyond 7.5 million. The majority of people who are in their 20s will live with their romantic partners at least once, and more than half of the marriage started by cohabiting. This shift has been because of the availability of birth control, the sexual revolution, and the current economy. Sharing the bills makes cohabiting most appealing to the young people. Young people say that it is cohabiting as prophylaxis (Jay, 2012: 4). 

Mann observed that 82% of women who cohabited with their eventual spouses before marriage celebrated their 5th anniversary of marriage. The same percentage was similar for women who did not cohabit with their eventual spouses. Research indicate that women who consider themselves “engaged” while cohabiting were less likely to divorce when they get married compared to those who cohabited but did not think they were “engaged.” Many young people cohabit since their parents cohabited too. Many young people know religion restrictions, but they cannot let that affect their decisions(Jay, 2012: 4)..

Research conducted by National Marriage Project at Rutgers and University of Virginian, nearly half of young people who are in the 20s agreed with the statement that, “you will only marry someone if he or she agreed to live together with you first so that you could find out whether you get along.” About two-thirds say they believed that cohabiting before marriage was the best way to avoid divorce(Mann 2012:5).

But that belief is contradicted by experience. Couples that cohabit before marriage tend to be less satisfied with their marriage, and they are likely to divorce compared to the couple who do not cohabit. These adverse outcomes are known as the cohabiting effect. Researchers initially linked cohabiting effect to selection, or the idea of cohabiting was less conventional on marriage hence open to divorce. Cohabitation is becoming a norm; however, studies indicated that the effects are not entirely explained by individual characteristics like politics, religion, and education. Research shows that at least some of the risk lies in cohabiting. Women view cohabitation as a step towards marriage while men saw it as a test of relationship or postpone commitment. One thing men and women believe is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse (Jay, 2012: 4).

Young people think that getting out of cohabitation is much easier, most often young people cohabit thinking it is low cost and low risk living only to find themselves unable to get out in years. It is like signing up for a credit card with no interest. When the interest escalates, you will be stuck because the balance is too high to be paid. In behavioral economics, it’s called consumer lock-in. Cohabitation is full with switching and setup costs. Living together can be economical and fun. After several years of living among roommates, couples often join to rent a lovely and spacious one bedroom apartment. They enjoy shopping for the equipment and furniture together. Afterward, the switching costs and this type of union have an impact on how they will live (Mann 2012:5). The hostile state between divorce and cohabitation does seem to be decreasing according to the previous report released in 2012 by Department of Health and Human Services (Jay, 2012: 4).

Similarities and Differences Between Academic Sources And The Media

According to academic sources, couples cohabitating are likely to divorce in their future marriages or separate before their marriage while media point out that women who enter into a cohabiting union are likely to stay long in their marriage and probably celebrate their 5th anniversary. 

In both media and academic sources cohabitation is perceived to be economical. The couples share bills and life expenses.

In both academic and media sources, couples cohabitate because they want to spend more time together, enjoy each other’s company and test for compatibility before marriage.

Cohabitation will continue existing, however, young adults should protect their relationships from the impacts of cohabitation. Cohabitating couples should set their rules and expectations from the relationship before they get into one. Although cohabitation is a means of the couple to share costs, spend time together and test compatibility, couples should avoid the effects from it such divorce, infidelity, abuse, violence among others.


Stanley, Scott M., Galena K. Rhoades and Howard J. Markman. 2006. “Sliding Versus Deciding: 

Inertia and the Premarital Cohabitation Effect.” Family Relations 55(4): 499-509.

Reinhold, Steffen. 2010. “Reassessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and Marital 

Instability.” Demography 47(3): 719-733. 

Cohan, Catherine L. and Stacey Kleinbaum. 2002. “Toward a Greater Understanding of the 

Cohabitation Effect: Premarital Cohabitation and Marital Cohabitation.” Journal of Marriage and Family 64(1):180-192.

Svarer, Michael. 2004. “Is Your Love Vain? Another Look at Premarital Cohabitation and 

Divorce.” The Journal of Human Resources 39(2): 523-535

Bumpass L, Lu HH. (2002). Trends in cohabitation and implications for children’s family contexts in the United States.  Popul Stud.  2000; 54(1): 29-41...

Leslie Mann, 2012. Cohabiting Happily Ever After . Chicago Tribune. May 09. pp5

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-05-09/news/ct-x-living-together 20120509_1_cohabiting- premarital-education-couples.

Meg Jay. 2012. The Downside of Cohabiting before Marriage. The New York Times. April14.p4

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before- marriage.html?_r=0&module=ArrowsNav&contentCollection=Opinion&action=keypress&region=FixedLeft&pgtype=article

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