Report: Most Couples Living Together Marry 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.

Report: Most Couples Living Together Marry

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

As of 2002, more young couples were living together outside of marriage than ever before, according to the latest government statistics. Even so, most of those couples eventually married, but why, and did those marriages last?

NPR's Patti Neighmond reports on what the numbers tell us.

PATTI NEIGHMOND: Federal researchers looked at how many people lived together and how many married. Once married, they looked at whose marriage lasted 10 years. What they found is that more than half of all women between 15 and 44 have at some point lived with an unmarried partner. A startling change in how we live our lives, according to Johns Hopkins University sociologist, Andrew Cherlin, who says it all started back in the '70s.

Professor ANDREW CHERLIN (Sociology, Johns Hopkins University): A couple of generations ago, it was really only the bohemians, the poor, the outcasts who were living together. In the early 1970s, I was living with a woman who became my wife later and I had dinner with my parents, told them about my girlfriend and they said: Where does she live? And I said: With me. And they nearly had heart attack. Today, I would've been surprised had my daughter not lived with her boyfriend before she got married. That's the kind of cultural change we've seen in just a generation.

NEIGHMOND: But that doesn't mean Americans have abandoned marriage. Just over half of all men and women get married within three years of living together, 65 percent get married within five years, suggesting to Cherlin that Americans shy away from notions of some European countries that sharing decades of unmarried partnership and even children is just fine. In the U.S., Cherlin says, people still want to get married.

Prof. CHERLIN: And so 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, that is, being married.

NEIGHMOND: As for whether that marriage will last 10 years, federal researchers say for the most part, yes. Two-thirds of marriages do last 10 years. And what are the factors that determine whether a marriage lasts? Well, the answers have pretty much stayed the same over the past decade. You are more likely to hit the 10-year mark if you marry someone a lot like you, similar in race, background and education, if you're over 26, if you have at least a bachelor's degree, and according to demographer Anjani Chandra with the National Center for Health Statistics, if you have a child during the marriage.

Dr. ANJANI CHANDRA (Demographer, National Center for Health Statistics): Nearly 80 percent of those first marriages where they had children were likely to survive to their 10th anniversary compared to about half that much surviving when there were no children involved.

NEIGHMOND: But what about this generation of young adults who've grown up in divorced families more so than any generation before? For women, Chandra says, family structure during childhood seems to predict their own marriage success.

Dr. CHANDRA: Those who were living with both parents at age 14, two-thirds of their first marriages were likely to survive to 10 years or more compared with less than half of those who were not living with both of their parents.

NEIGHMOND: But for men, Chandra says, there was no relationship between growing up in an intact family and whether or not they remained married themselves. Now, remember, this data about American marriages is about eight years old. Soon, federal analysts will release more recent information looking at marriage from 2006 to 2010.

Patti Neighmond, NPR News.

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