In a recent NYTimes article (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/15/opinion/sunday/the-downside-of-cohabiting-before-marriage.html?pagewanted=all) Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia and the author of The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter — and How to Make the Most of Them Now, notes that cohabitation has increased from 1960 with 450,000 cohabitating couples, to the present with 7.5 million cohabitation couples. More than 50% of marriages will be preceded by cohabitation and approximately 2/3rds of the respondents in a survey conducted in 2001 said that cohabitating was a good way to avoid divorce. But, says Jay: “Couples who cohabit before marriage (and especially before an engagement or an otherwise clear commitment) tend to be less satisfied with their marriages — and more likely to divorce — than couples who do not. These negative outcomes are called the cohabitation effect.”
Perhaps the most interesting conclusion Jay draws and the one that would make the most interesting class discussion is this: men and women often have different reasons for cohabitating: “Women are more likely to view cohabitation as a step toward marriage, while men are more likely to see it as a way to test a relationship or postpone commitment, and this gender asymmetry is associated with negative interactions and lower levels of commitment even after the relationship progresses to marriage. One thing men and women do agree on, however, is that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than they are for a spouse.”A thorough statistical analysis of first marriages by the US Department of Health and Human Services, perhaps the most recent analysis, is available at http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr049.pdf.