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April 9, 2013

Unmarried couples living together is new norm, U.S. study says

Three of four women in the United States have lived with a partner without being married by age 30, an increasing trend that suggests cohabitation is now a regular part of family life, researchers said.

The survey of 12,279 women ages 15 through 44 also found that 40 percent of unmarried partners transitioned to marriage within 3 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report. A third of the arrangements stayed intact without marriage, while 27 percent dissolved, the study found.

More people are putting off marriage either because they can't afford it or because it's financially risky, said Gail Wyatt, director of the University of California Los Angeles's sexual health program. About 48 percent of the women surveyed lived with a partner as a first union, compared with 34 percent in 1995. Others may view cohabitation as a way of test- driving a relationship to see if a marriage will work.

"Marriage is for people who have money and want to spend money just on the wedding itself," Wyatt said in a telephone interview. She wasn't involved in the study. "Some people would rather buy a house, or just pay the rent." People who are poor or less educated may shy away from marriage and its legal complications, she said.

A couple that shares an address counts as a "first union," as does a first marriage, according to the report. Only 23 percent of first unions were marriages in the study period, compared to 39 percent in 1995.

"Cohabitation is a common part of family formation in the United States, and serves both as a step toward marriage and as an alternative to marriage," the report said.

The Atlanta-based CDC's report used interviews starting in 2006 and ending in 2010. About 70 percent of women without high school diplomas lived with a partner as their first union, compared to 47 percent of those with a bachelor's degree, the report found. Women with less than a high school diploma were less likely to marry within 3 years, compared to peers with more education.

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