EconomyEditor's PickLiving-in before marriage is a bad idea

November 18, 2021
couple

I once came across an online chat group where one of the members asked for advice on how to best prepare for marriage. The overwhelmingly popular suggestion from the youngish crowd: live together first.

Now, with thinking like that, no wonder more and more marriages are breaking up and more and more children are born or growing up outside wedlock.

Follow the science.

Stanford’s Michael J. Rosenfeld and Katharina Roesler (“Cohabitation Experience and Cohabitation’s Association with Marital Dissolution,” 2018) reaffirms that premarital cohabitation is still a risk factor for divorce: “The results show that in the first year of marriages, couples who cohabited before marriage have a lower marital dissolution rate than couples who did not cohabit before marriage, a difference that may be due to the practical experience of cohabitation, as couples who have cohabited learned to adapt to each other. We find that the association between marital dissolution and premarital cohabitation has not changed over time or across marriage cohorts. The benefits of cohabitation experience in the first year of marriage has misled scholars into thinking that the most recent marriage cohorts will not experience heightened marital dissolution due to pre-marital cohabitation.”

In other words, although couples that lived together before marrying may have a lower divorce rate in their first year of marriage, nevertheless, the chances of them divorcing go exponentially higher after five years and this bol-sters earlier research linking premarital cohabitation to increased divorce (e.g., see the 1988 study by Bennett, Blanc, & Bloom).

Ergo: premarital cohabitation is still a decisive risk factor substantially increasing the chances of a marriage breaking up.

Doubtless, there are experts that attempt to defend cohabitation before marriage (e.g., the critique by Manning, Smock, and Kuperberg) but in the end such do not hold water when ranged against decade af-ter decade of studies showing the adverse effect of “live-in” arrangements to marriages.

Rosenfeld and Roesler adequately defend their work against Manning, Smock, and Kuperberg, and “stand by their conclusion that the average increased risk for divorce associated with premarital cohabitation is mostly unchanged over the last 40 years” (“Is Cohabitation Still Linked to Greater Odds of Divorce?,” Institute for Family Studies, 2021).

In fact, to those arguing that for the poor cohabitation might be a better alternative to marriage, a 2011 Pew Research Analysis showed the opposite — cohabitation actually works against them: “less-educated adults are less likely to realize the economic benefits associated with cohabitation… a cohabiter without a college degree typically is worse off than a comparably educated married adult and no better off economically than an adult without an opposite-sex partner.”

And more crucially, Pew found that “a voluminous body of social science research shows that marriage is associated with a variety of benefits for adults. In the words of one researcher: ‘For well over a century, researchers have known that married people are generally better off than their unmarried counterparts’ (Nock, 2005)” (“Living Together: The Economics of Cohabitation,” Pew Research Center, 2011).

The foregoing has to be read closely with numerous studies linking premarital sex to eventual breakup of marriages. In other words, despite the supposed rise of the “hook-up culture” and media’s normalization of premari-tal sex, recent data still show that marriages where the bride is a virgin leads to more stable marriages and far lesser chances of divorce or marital breakup. Conversely, the more sexual partners a woman has had before mar-riage sees greater risk of marital deterioration (see “Counterintuitive Trends in the Link Between Premarital Sex and Marital Stability,” 2016, and “Does Sexual History Affect Marital Happiness?,” 2018, Institute for Family Stud-ies).

What’s disconcerting for the Philippines is that despite the clear negative effect of cohabitation, more and more young Filipinos are deciding to do it anyway: “Data from the Philippine National Demographic and Health Survey (NDHS) show that the proportion of Filipino women of age 15 to 49 who are legally married dropped from 54% in 1993 to 42% in 2017, while the corresponding proportions who are living together more than tripled from 5% to 18%,” while “the share of Filipinos who agreed that ‘it is all right for a couple to live together without intending to get married’ increased from 18% in 1994 to 35% in 2012” (“Do Filipinos still say ‘I do’? The rise of non-marriage and cohabitation in the Philip-pines,” Jeofrey Abalos, 2021).

So, if cohabitation and premarital sex provide greater risk for marriage instability and the breakup of marriages, this then leads us to the fully documented negative consequences for children of broken marriages or single parenthood (see, for example, “Divorce and its damaging effect on children. And on society,” 2017, and “Divorce is a deadly killer!,” 2018, BusinessWorld).

Bottomline: people can certainly give far better advice to young couples (e.g., better courtships, emphasis on family stability and values compatibility) than blithely telling them to “live together first.”

JEMY GATDULA is a senior fellow of the Philippine Council for Foreign Relations and a Philippine Judicial Academy law lecturer for constitutional philosophy and jurisprudence
https://www.facebook.com/jigatdula
Twitter @jemygatdula

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