The Negative Effects of Cohabitation

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In today modern society with such high rate of divorce, many people are turning to cohabitation. With the 2000 census reporting 5. 5 million cohabiting couples , up 3. 2 million from 1990 ( Simmons & O’Connell, 2003), it is clear that cohabitation is a trend that needs to be further examined. Cohabitation is viewed as an attractive alternative or a stepping stone to marriage. Cohabiting partners share the belief that living together will be a way to test their compatibility.

Premarital cohabitation works like test driving a car before signing the binding contract and leaving the dealership. But will you leave the dealership with a successful purchase and no regrets? Or will it be a purchase that never occurred because the test drive was not as smooth as expected? Although experts agree that “common sense suggests that premarital cohabitation should provide an opportunity for couples to learn about each other, strengthen their bonds and increase their chances for a successful marriage” (Smock, 2000, p. 6), research proves that cohabitation does not lead to a better relationship.

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In the contrary, cohabitation creates an unstable environment that is detrimental to the relationship and to the foundation of family. Many believe that living together before officially ‘tying the knot’ would lower the risk of divorce because by living together couples are learning more about each . As indicated in a survey by the National Survey of Families and Households, 50% of those who cohabit do so because they feel it is a way to ensure compatibility (Smock, 2000). The truth is, that the “idea that marriages preceded by cohabitation are more stable has received close to no empirical support” (Svarer, 2004, p. 24).

In contrary, research has proved the complete opposite of this idea. Nock’s study in 1995 specifically found that cohabiters report lower levels of happiness with their partners, express lower degrees of commitment to their relationships, and have poorer quality relationships with their partners (p. 53). In another research Linda Waite, Professor in Sociology, stated that cohabitating forms “unstable living arrangements that can have negative effects on their emotional, financial and sometimes physical well-being” (Harms, 2002).

In more serious cases in the United States, Canada, Europe, and New Zealand, studies have shown that a consistently higher proportion of cohabiters than married couples report violence, with cohabiters reporting a rate of physical aggression twice that of married couples. Researchers have found that those who cohabited prior to marriage had a 54% greater chance of being violent than those married couples who did not cohabit first (Standford et al. , 2004).

In a study published in the journal The Responsive Community , Linda Waite showed that “16 percent of cohabiting women reported that arguments with their partners became physical during the past year, while only 5 percent of married women had similar experiences” (Harms, 2002). It is clear that cohabitation does not generate a pleasant or more agreeable relationship. Since cohabitation is seen as involving less commitment and greater individual autonomy, it leads some to view cohabitation as a ‘looser bond,’ a distinct intuitional form with different goals, norms, and behaviors.

Due to the fact that there are fewer barriers to end the cohabitating relationship compared to those in ending a marriage, cohabiters fail to give their relationship much importance (Nock, 1995) and it is no surprise that those who cohabit are ending their marriage “at profoundly higher rates than non-cohabiting counterparts” (Woods & Emery , p. 103). Roughly 20% of marriages end in separation but, “over 50% of cohabiting unions in the U. S. end by separation within 5 years” (Smock, 2000). As the number of cohabitation increases, so has the number of children living in those households.

These children may have been born into the union or are in it because one of the partners is their parent. Being raised in these social arrangements of cohabiting couples may cause serious problems for these children (Harms, 2002). The National Survey of Families and Households shows that greater proportions of cohabiting women consider it “all right” to have a child while unmarried if they have definite plans to marry their partners (Manning, 1993). However, having children involved poses a number of threats, one being that the child experiences a higher risk of instability in the home.

It should not be too alarming that “15% of children born to cohabiting parents experience the end of their parents unions by age one, half by age five, and two thirds by age ten” ( Smock, 2000 , p. 94). Moreover, it is easy to see why a child in a cohabiting household would feel insecure and unstable about their family life. The possibly of coming home worried that one of your parents may be gone for good can be unsettling to any child. Those who cohabit seem to have the odds against them. People in cohabiting relationships are at risk to have poor marital relationship and poor family life.

They are at an overall higher risk for divorce. Children are helpless in these cohabiting unions and are greatly affected by the decisions that their parents make. Why take the chance and risk the future of your marriage, child, and happiness? The evidence is clear: do not cohabit because it will weaken your relationship with your partner and the ability to maintain a stable family.


  1. Harms, W. (2002). Research looks at cohabitation’s negative effects. The University of Chicago Chronicles, 19(11). Retrieved January 30, 2009, from http://chronicle. uchicago. edu/000302/cohabit. html
  2. Manning, W. D. (1993). Marriage and cohabitation following premarital conception. Journal of Marriage & the Family, 55(4), 839-850.
  3. Nock, S. L. (1995). A comparison of marriages and cohabiting relationships. Journal of Family Issues, 16(1), 53-76.
  4. Simmons, T. , & O’Connell M. (2003). Married-Couple and Unmarried-Partner Households: 2000. Census 2000 Special Report. Retrieved on January 30, 2009, from http://www. census. gov/prod/2003pubs/censr-5. pdf
  5. Smock, P. J. (2000). Cohabitation in the united states: An appraisal of research themes, findings, and implications.
  6. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 1-20. Stafford, L. , Kline, S. L. , & Rankin, C. T. (2004). Married individuals, cohabiters, and cohabiters who marry: A longitudinal study of relational and individual well-being. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 21(2), 231-248.
  7. Svarer, M. (2004). Is your love in vain? another look at premarital cohabitation and divorce. The Journal of Human Resources, 39(2), 523-535.
  8. Woods, L. N. , & Emery, R. E. (2002). The cohabitation effects on divorce: Causation or selection? Journal of Divorce & Remarriage, 37(3), 101-119.

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The Negative Effects of Cohabitation. (2018, Apr 24). Retrieved from

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