Cohabitation is an arrangement where two people who are not married live together in an intimate relationship, particularly an emotionally and/or sexually intimate one, on a long-term or permanent basis. More broadly, the term cohabitation can mean any number of people living together.
Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among people in the Western world. More than two-thirds of married couples in the US say that they lived together before getting married. “In 1994, there were 3.7 million cohabiting couples in the United States.” This is a far cry from a few decades ago. Before 1970, cohabitation was illegal in the United States.
According to Dr. Galena Rhoades, “Before 1970, living together outside of marriage was uncommon, but by the late 1990s at least 50% to 60% of couples lived together premaritally. According to the U.S. Census, “the number of unmarried couples living together increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000.” Nowadays, it is seen as a normal step in the dating process. In fact, “cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first coresidential union formed among young adults.” People may live together for a number of reasons. Cohabitants could live together in order to save money, because of the convenience of living with another, or a need to find housing. Lower income individuals facing financial uncertainty may delay or avoid marriage, not only because of the difficulty of paying for a wedding but also because of fear of financial hardship if a marriage were to end in divorce. When given a survey of the reasons why they cohabitate most couples listed reasons such as spending more time together, convenience based reasons, and testing their relationships, while few gave the reason that they do not believe in marriage.
The extremely high costs of housing and tight budgets of today’s economy are also factors that can lead a couple to cohabitation. Today sixty percent of all marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation. Researchers suggest that couples live together as a way of trying out marriage to test compatibility with their partners, while still having the option of ending the relationship without legal implications. “More than three-quarters of all cohabitators report plans to marry their partners, which implies that most of them view cohabitation as a prelude to marriage.
Cohabitation shares many qualities with marriage, often couples who are cohabitating share a residence, personal resources, exclude intimate relations with others and, in more than 10% of cohabitating couples, have children. “Many young adults believe cohabitation is a good way to test their relationships prior to marriage. Couples who have plans to marry before moving in together or who are engaged before cohabiting typically marry within two years of living together. “About 10% of cohabiting unions last more than five years.” According to a survey done by The National Center for Health Statistics, “over half of marriages from 1990-1994 among women began as cohabitation.
Cohabitation can be an alternative to marriage in situations where marriage is not able to happen for financial or other reasons, such as same-sex, some interracial or interreligious marriages. Other reasons might include cohabitation as a way for polygamists or polyamorists to avoid breaking the law, a way to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income married couples (in the United States), negative effects on pension payments (among older people), or seeing no need to marry.
Cohabitation, sometimes called de facto marriage, is becoming more commonly known as a substitute for conventional marriage. In some states which recognize it, cohabitation can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period, or if the couple consider and behave accordingly as husband and wife. (This helps provide the surviving partner a legal basis for inheriting the deceased’s belongings in the event of the death of their cohabiting partner). In today’s cohabiting relationships, forty percent of households include children, giving us an idea of how cohabitation could be considered a new normative type of family dynamic.