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Living Together

People who live together before tying the knot are more apt to fail in marriage than couples who move in after exchanging vows, two sociologists say in a recent study.

The researchers said their findings contradict the idea, popular in the 1960s and 1970s when living together became more socially acceptable, that the experience would better prepare people for marriage and thus reduce divorce.

Professors William G. Axinn, of the University of Chicago, and Arland Thornton, of the University of Michigan, concluded that couples who live together are less committed to the institution of marriage and “cohabiting experiences significantly increase young people’s acceptance of divorce.”

Their study, published in the August edition of “Demography,” covered 867 families of mothers and their children interviewed over a period from 1962 to 1985. They say the link between living together and divorce runs both ways—increased divorce rates cause more people to choose non-marital relationships while cohabitation “may have a feedback effect” of increasing the acceptance and likelihood of divorce. Axinn and Thornton did not compare divorce rates in their study, but cited other studies that found couples who live together before marriage have divorce rates 50 to 100 percent higher than those who don’t.

The sociologists said young people who are committed to the institution of marriage, and who would be disappointed if they don’t marry, are more likely to marry without living together.

They also found that children of parents who are less positive about the joys of matrimony are more likely to move in before getting married.

Census Bureau figures showed that in 1990 there were 2.9 million unmarried couples living together, up 80 percent from 1980.

Spokesman Review, September 3, 1992, p. 1