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Cohabitation in the United States

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Cohabitation in the United States is loosely defined as two or more people,[1] in an intimate relationship, who live together and share a common domestic life but are neither joined by marriage nor a civil union.[2]


In most parts of the United States, there is no legal registration or definition of cohabitation, so demographers have developed various methods of identifying cohabitation and measuring its prevalence. The Census Bureau, currently describes an "unmarried partner" as a "person age 15 years and over, who is not related to the householder, who shares living quarters, and who has a close personal relationship with the householder."[3] Before 1995, the Bureau identified any "unrelated" opposite-sex couple living with no other adults as "POSSLQs", or Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters,[4] and the Bureau still reports these numbers to show historical trends. However, such measures should be taken loosely, as researchers report that cohabitation often does not have clear start and end dates, as people move in and out of each other's homes and sometimes do not agree on the definition of their living arrangement at a particular moment.[5]

In 2001, in the United States 8.2% of couples were calculated to be cohabiting, the majority of them in the West Coast and New England/Northeastern United States areas.[6]

In 2005, the Census Bureau reported 4.85 million cohabiting couples, up more than ten times from 1960, when there were 439,000 such couples. The 2002 National Survey of Family Growth found that more than half of all women aged 15 to 44 have lived with an unmarried partner, and that 65% of American couples who did cohabit got married within 5 years.[7]

In 2011, the Census Bureau reported 7.6 million opposite-sex cohabiting couples in the country with a separate report listing the number of cohabiting same-sex couples at 514,735 as of the 2010 Census.[8][9]

The cohabiting population includes all age groups, but the average cohabiting age group is between 25–34.[10]


In 2003 a study was made of premarital cohabitation of women who are in a monogamous relationship.[11] The study showed "women who are committed to one relationship, who have both premarital sex and cohabit only with the man they eventually marry, have no higher incidence of divorce than women who abstain from premarital sex and cohabitation. For women in this category, premarital sex and cohabitation with their eventual husband are just two more steps in developing a committed, long-term relationship." Teachman's findings report instead that "It is only women who have more than one intimate premarital relationship who have an elevated risk of marital disruption. This effect is strongest for women who have multiple premarital coresidental unions."[12]

A survey, conducted by researchers at the University of Denver (2009), of over 1,000 married men and women in the United States found those who moved in with a lover before engagement or marriage reported significantly lower quality marriages and a greater possibility for splitting up than other couples.[13] About 20 percent of those who cohabited before getting engaged had since suggested divorce – compared with only 12 percent of those who only moved in together after getting engaged and 10 percent who did not cohabit prior to marriage.[13]

Psychologist Dr. Galena Rhoades said: "There might be a subset of people who live together before they got engaged who might have decided to get married really based on other things in their relationship – because they were already living together and less because they really wanted and had decided they wanted a future together. We think some couples who move in together without a clear commitment to marriage may wind up sliding into marriage partly because they are already cohabiting."[13]

A 2001 study of 1,000 adults indicated that people who cohabited experienced a divorce rate 50% higher after marriage than those who did not, though this may be correlation and not cause-and-effect.[14] A subsequent study performed by the National Center for Health Statistics with a sample size of over 12,000 individuals found that there was no significant difference in divorce rate between cohabitating and non-cohabitating individuals.[15]


In 2011, The National Marriage Project reported that about ​23 of children with cohabiting parents would see them break up before they were 12 years old. About ​14 of children of married couples would experience this by age 12.[16] Although the chance of divorce increases for longer marriages in general, the divorce rates are not significantly different for those who cohabit prior to marriage and those who do not.[17] Overall, cohabitation prior to marriage does not appear to negatively impact the chances of future marriage dissolution.

White American working-class women are more likely than either non-white working-class American women or European women to raise their children with a succession of live-in boyfriends, with the result that the children may live with, and then see the departure of, multiple men. This behavior seems to be driven primarily by the mothers' financial needs.[18]

Legal status

Some places, including the state of California, have laws that recognize cohabiting couples as "domestic partners". In California, such couples are defined as people who "have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring," including having a "common residence, and are the same sex or persons of opposite sex if one or both of the persons are over the age of 62".[19] This recognition led to the creation of a Domestic Partners Registry,[20] granting them limited legal recognition and some rights similar to those of married couples.

Two states, Mississippi and Michigan, have laws on their books against cohabitation by opposite-sex couples.[21][22] As well, although North Carolina Superior Court judge Benjamin Alford struck down the North Carolina law against opposite-sex cohabitation as unconstitutional,[23] the Supreme Court of North Carolina has never had the opportunity to rule on it, so the law's statewide constitutionality remains unclear.

Anti-cohabitation laws are often not enforced[2] although until recently,[when?] cohabitants were regularly being charged with misdemeanors in Florida.[24] On March 22, 2016, the Florida legislature voted to repeal the state's ban on cohabitation. The Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law on 6 April 2016.[25] Many legal scholars believe that in light of in Lawrence v. Texas, such laws making cohabitation illegal are unconstitutional (North Carolina Superior Court judge Benjamin Alford struck down the North Carolina law as unconstitutional on that basis).[26] The Supreme Court of Virginia similarly found the commonwealth's (unenforced[27]) law making fornication (sex between unmarried persons) illegal to be unconstitutional in Martin v. Ziherl.

The IRS will not grant exemptions for a cohabiting dependent and relatives if cohabitation is illegal in the local jurisdiction.

The charge of "unlawful cohabitation" was used in the late 19th century to enforce the Edmunds Act, and other federal anti-polygamy laws against the Mormons in the Utah Territory, imprisoning more than 1,300 men.[28] However, incidents of cohabitation by non-polygamists were not charged in that territory at that time. Some modern scholarship suggested the Edmunds Act might be unconstitutional for being in violation of the Free Exercise Clause,[29] although the Supreme Court had repeatedly ruled that neutral laws that happen to impinge on some religious practices are constitutional.[30] On 13 December 2013, US Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in Brown v. Buhman that the portions of Utah's anti-polygamy laws which prohibited multiple cohabitation were unconstitutional, but also allowed Utah to maintain its ban on multiple marriage licenses.[31][32][33]

See also


  1. ^ "Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882".
  2. ^ a b Cohabitation Law & , Legal Definition. USLegal. Retrieved on October 17, 2012
  3. ^ See "Household Type and Relationship".
  4. ^ See "Current Population Survey (CPS) – Definitions and Explanations"
  5. ^ Manning, Wendy D. and Pamela J. Smock. 2005. "Measuring and Modeling Cohabitation: New Perspectives from Qualitative Data." Journal of Marriage and Family 67(4):989–1002.
  6. ^ Anne-Marie Ambert: Cohabitation and Marriage: How Are They Related? Archived 2009-10-31 at the Wayback Machine. The Vanier Institute of the Family, Fall 2005
  7. ^ "Report: Most Couples Living Together Marry". Retrieved 2010-03-11.
  8. ^ "America's Families and Living Arrangements: 2011, Table UC1". United States Census Bureau. November 2011. Retrieved 2013-12-11.
  9. ^ "Census Bureau Releases Estimates of Same-Sex Married Couples". United States Census Bureau. September 2011. Retrieved 2013-12-11.
  10. ^ Cohabitation is replacing dating USA Today 7/17/2005
  11. ^ Jay Teachman (2003), "Premarital Sex, Premarital Cohabitation, and the Risk of Subsequent Marital Dissolution Among Women", Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2), 444–455.
  12. ^ "Premarital Sex, Cohabitation, and Divorce: the Broken Link" (PDF) (Press release). National Council on Family Relations. 2003. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-04-20. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
  13. ^ a b c "Couples who live together before marriage more likely to get divorced". The Daily Telegraph. London. 2009-07-16.
  14. ^ Martin, Paige D. (Fall 2001). "Adolescent Premarital Sexual Activity, Cohabitation, and Attitudes Toward Marriage". BNET. Retrieved 3 May 2009.
  15. ^ Jayson, Sharon (October 14, 2010). "Report: Cohabiting has little effect on marriage success" USA Today. Retrieved on 2/29/2012
  16. ^ "Why More Parents Are Choosing Cohabitation over Marriage". 2012-06-22. Archived from the original on 2013-05-25. Retrieved 2012-06-28.
  17. ^ Manning & Cohen (2012) Premarital cohabitation and marital dissolution: An examination of recent marriages. Journal of Marriage and Family, 74, pp 377–387. [1]
  18. ^ Case, Anne; Deaton, Angus (Spring 2017). "Mortality and Morbidity in the 21st Century". Brookings Papers on Economic Activity.
  19. ^ "California Code".
  20. ^ "Domestic Partners Registry". Archived from the original on 2008-07-19. Retrieved 2009-06-30.
  21. ^ Miss. Code 97-29-1
  22. ^ Mi. St. 750.335, NC Code §14-184
  23. ^ See "Judge strikes down law banning cohabitation" and "N.C. law banning cohabitation struck down".
  24. ^ "FL: Couples Living Together Without Being Married Can Get Arrested".
  25. ^ "Senate Bill 498 (2016) – the Florida Senate".
  26. ^ See "Judge strikes down law banning cohabitation" and "N.C. law banning cohabitation struck down".
  27. ^ Grossman, Joanna (January 25, 2005). "Virginia strikes down state fornication law".
  28. ^, Edmunds Anti-Polygamy Act of 1882.
  29. ^ "The Practice of Polygamy: Legitimate Free Exercise of Religion or Legitimate Public Menace? Revisiting Reynolds in Light of Modern Constitutional Jurisprudence" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-03-09. Retrieved 2008-02-04.
  30. ^ E.g., Employment Division v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990).
  31. ^ Schwartz, John (14 September 2013), "A Law Prohibiting Polygamy is Weakened", The New York Times, retrieved 13 January 2014
  32. ^ Mears, Bill (14 December 2013), "'Sister Wives' case: Judge strikes down part of Utah polygamy law",, CNN, retrieved 13 January 2014
  33. ^ Stack, Peggy Fletcher (14 December 2013), "Laws on Mormon polygamists lead to win for plural marriage", The Salt Lake Tribune, retrieved 13 January 2014

Further reading

  • Pleck, Elizabeth H. Not Just Roommates: Cohabitation After the Sexual Revolution (University of Chicago Press; 2012) 290 pages; Explores the continued bias and stigma against heterosexual cohabitation in American law and custom despite the practice becoming extremely common.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 July 2020, at 05:37
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