Report On Unmarried Hetero Heathens Touts Cohabitation As ‘A Step Toward Marriage’ And ‘Alternative To Marriage’

unmarried couplesEveryone cry for what is quickly becoming the new normal in the United States. It used to be that Natalie Portman strutting around the Oscars with her pregnant belly and her fiancé was enough to ruffle some people’s feathers. Now, it’s not only the common scenario for a lot of women — but it appears to be working out. For now.

USA Today reports that straight unmarried couples are not only living together and procreating more — they’re also staying together longer than they have in the past. According to in-person interviews of over 12,000 women (aged 15-44) between 2006 and 2010, almost half of these ladies moved in with a dude as their “first union.” Casey Copen, a demographer and the report’s lead author, describes this as a “kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.” But even more importantly, the report concludes that:

“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 longevity of these relationships is news to the federal government because this is the first time they’re providing “detailed data” on how long these first unions/cohabitation relationships/unmarried heathenites are staying together. Turns out, in this particular study, only a little over a quarter of these relationships failed. The rest just kept right on going:

Within three years of cohabiting, 40% of women had transitioned to marriage; 32% remained living together; 27% had broken up.

And, in keeping consistent with a lot of marriage data that is already out there, education and social status is proving to be a common link:

The new data show 70% of women without a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared with 47% of those with a bachelor’s degree or higher. Among women ages 22-44 with higher education, their cohabitations were more likely to transition to marriage within years (53%), compared with 30% for those who didn’t graduate high school.

“What we’re seeing here is the emergence of children within cohabiting unions among the working class and the poor,” [ sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore] says. “They have high standards for marriage and they don’t think they can meet them for now, but increasingly, it’s not stopping them from having a child. Having children within cohabiting unions is much more common among everybody but the college educated.”

According to another demographer, Mark Mather, of the Population Reference Bureau, “instability” tends to be a lot more common to those without a degree. He’s even so confident as to say that higher education is the “main determining factor of whether this [relationship] is a transition to marriage or maybe a short-term union.”

Hey, look, Susan A. Patton – yet another reason to go to college!

(photo: EMprize / Shutterstock)

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  • Emmali Lucia

    I just can’t help but think how WEIRD that is. I mean, I don’t care at all about living together or having a child out of wedlock, that’s not weird.

    What’s weird is that people don’t feel like their “ready” for marriage so they have children while they wait. I don’t know about you, but children are one hell of a lot more permanent of a bond than a marriage certificate.

    Anyways, not judging anyone’s choices, I’m just always intrigued by that school of thought.

    • MarisaSays

      Right? I am spending way more time worrying about our being “ready” to parent than I did worrying if my husband and I were ready to get married. I can divorce my husband, but once I have a child, I have a child forever. I wonder what constitutes feeling “ready” for marriage for those that continue to wait but go ahead and have kids?

      I want to be clear, though, that I don’t believe marriage has to happen before (or after) having kids. Marriage doesn’t equate being ready for children and children can be raised well in all kinds of situations.

    • Andrea

      Maybe they just want a child and they are not concerned about the co-parenting commitment. Or maybe they don’t think about it like that. Not a thing I would do, but that’s just me.

      I remember thinking when I was pregnant with my 1st child that I would not be forever and ever tied to this man. No matter what happens, he will be a part of my life forever. It scared the shit out of me a whole lot more than saying our wedding vows did.

    • sfphilli

      i think it might be about money, especially since it is the working class the surveyors are talking about. “High expectations for marriage” might mean wanting an expensive wedding, which is very difficult to afford — it’s a giant lump of money needed all at once, as opposed to bills over time like a kid creates.

  • MarisaSays

    I can’t imagine getting married before cohabitating. To each her/his own, but I really believe that living with someone is an entirely different experience than dating. Even if you spend every night at your partner’s place. Sharing a space, without having your own homes to retreat to, teaches you SO MUCH.

    • Andrea

      And it’s still different than being married. At least it was for me. Things changed. Some for the better, but not all.

      It’s like, when you are living together you think aww how cute, he left his socks on the floor again, i’ll just pick them up. When you are married, you think, OMFG I am going to be picking up socks off the floor for the rest of my life!!!!!

    • MarisaSays

      I have zero perspective on this, because I married the guy I started dating in high school when I was 15. This has it upsides and downsides, but it definitely means you truly know nearly everything about the other person’s habits. For me, marriage just felt like a government piece of paper telling me what I already knew, which is OMGF I am going to be picking up socks off the floor for the rest of my life ;)

    • Andrea


    • Gangle

      Really? My husband and I lived together for 4 years before we ended up tying the knot… at no point in the relationship did I think picking up socks was cute. I figured out pretty early on that picking up after my slobby boyfriend was something that was just part of life.

      I must say marriage did teach us a lot more about each other, but not because of the actual wedding, and not because things magically changed the day after. We decided to do pre-marital councelling before we tied the knot even though we had been together for so long, and I think that was what made the real difference.

    • LiteBrite

      I was thinking the same thing. Living together is living together, whether you are married or not. I would imagine couples who live together have the same stresses and irritations as those who are married.

      (Note: I’ve never lived lived with any of my boyfriends, save for two months with my husband before our wedding date. However, I **have** lived with people in general, and it can be annoying as hell.)

    • AS

      ha! By the time I got married, he knew better than to leave his socks lying around! :) What is it about guys and socks.

  • Jussame

    Perhaps because I’m a non-Amercian this perspective seems quite strange to me, that couples with kids who aren’t married are either on the path to marriage or are unstable. Commited, long term common-law relationships are quite common in other parts of the world (e.g. 15% of all couples in Canada are common-law, and in Quebec over 50% of kids are born to couples in common-law relationships). I for one am in a commited relationship with the father of my two children with whom I plan to spend the rest of my life but we have no intention of getting married (booooring). This is pretty much the norm in my group of educated hippy friends: have kids, buy houses together, but don’t bother with the cliched wedding.

    • Frances Locke

      Thank you for this. I have been looking for similar stats for the US and have come up short. I’m in a similar relationship and plan on never marrying for various reasons. Most of my friends are the same and even the married ones did it for pragmatic reasons like insurance.

  • Véronique Houde

    I’m wondering if this has anything to do with the fact that some people might want to save up for the big day, and since they have lower paying jobs, this might take longer to achieve? Also, they might not want to wait on the kids as much as wait on the wedding due to the biological clock ticking away… I don’t know, it’s just a theory. As jussame pointed out, here in quebec, many people just don’t get married and that’s quite normal. I’m not married, and have a kid with my boyfriend!

  • Frances Locke

    I would love to find numbers on couples who do not wish to “transition into marriage”. My partner (who I often refer to as my husband for brevity’s sake when I don’t know someone well enough to get into it) and I fit into the second portion, those 47% with a higher degree and yet we will not “transition” into marriage because we don’t believe in it for ourselves. It’s something neither of us have ever wanted.