The latest statistics from the federal government show that more young couples are living together outside marriage than ever before. But even so, it turns out that most of them will end up getting married, especially if they have similar backgrounds in terms of race and education, if they are older, if they have at least a bachelor's degree, and if they have a child.
Federal researchers analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. As part of the survey, extensive in-home interviews were conducted with both men and women. Researchers found that more than half of all women between the ages of 15 and 44 had, at some point, lived with a partner without being married.
That's a startling change, says Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University and author of the book The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and Family in America Today. Cherlin says cohabitation is no longer considered fringe behavior. In fact, he says, it's widely accepted now.
Just a few decades ago, he says, it was really only the beatniks, bohemians, the poor and the outcast who were living together. In the early l970s, Cherlin notes, he was living with a woman who became his wife.
"I had dinner with my parents and told them about my girlfriend," he says. They asked where she lived, and he told them she lived with him. "They nearly had a heart attack," Cherlin says.
By contrast, he says, today he would have been surprised if his daughter had not lived with her boyfriend before getting married.
"That's the kind of cultural change we see in just a generation," he says.
Marriage Still A Goal
Despite the widespread and increasing popularity of living together without being married, marriage remains a mainstay of the U.S. population. Among those men and women who were living together, federal researchers report a 51 percent chance that they will end up marrying within three years, and a 65 percent chance they will marry within five years.
Unlike in a number of European countries, where unmarried partnerships can continue for decades and include having children, Cherlin says most Americans still want to get married.
"You don't see many long-term cohabitating relationships that just last and last, because people want that ring and that honeymoon and that party to show themselves that they've achieved what, in America, is a first-class personal life," Cherlin says.
As for whether the marriage will last 10 years, federal researchers say that for the most part, the answer is yes — two-thirds of marriages do last 10 years. The factors that determine whether a marriage lasts have stayed the same over the past decade. You're more likely to hit the 10-year mark if you marry someone much like you: similar in race, background and education; if you're over 26; if you are college educated, with at least a bachelor's degree; and if you have a child during the marriage.
Lasting 10 Years
Demographer Anjani Chandra, with the National Center for Health Statistics, worked on the federal analysis. She says that, among those first marriages that produced children, either biologically or through adoption, nearly 80 percent of couples were likely to have a 10th anniversary. If the couples didn't have children, they were more than twice as likely not to last 10 years.
Chandra says the research produced another interesting association.
"Those women who, when they were 14 years old lived with both of their parents, were much more likely to have their first marriages last at least 10 years than those who were not living with both of their parents," Chandra says.
On the other hand, for men, Chandra says, there was no relationship between growing up in an intact family and whether the men remained married themselves.
This data about American marriages is about eight years old. Chandra says that within a few months, federal researchers plan to release more recent information looking at U.S. marriages from 2006 to 2010. That research will also focus more closely on trends and specific patterns among racial groups, education levels and other cultural differences.