Conservative grandmothers across this great nation of ours love to warn their female progeny that if they give "the milk" away "for free," then no one will want to "buy the cow." Often concurrent with this adage is the belief that a solid bloc of statistics show that premarital cohabitation — or "shacking up" or "playing house" or "living in sin," depending on how Catholic your grandma is — will increase divorce risk. But the truth is that for women with a higher than average number of notches on their bedpost, playing house actually lowers divorce risk. And for women with a less colorful sexual history, it's not clear that cohabitation plays a role in failed marriages at all. Take that, grandma!
Stats that show a correlation between cohabitation and divorce date back to the 1970's, and, until now, social scientists didn't really have any conclusive evidence as to whether that correlation was actually causation, according to Live Science. Some surmised that people who move in without getting married are, like scorned contestants on reality TV dating shows, there for the wrong reasons. Maybe their reticence to marry in the first place was due to a mental reservations about their partner, a desire to keep things open-ended. Maybe they weren't truly committed to each other.
New research from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro shows that the premarital living arrangements don't have anything to do with why couples get divorced. In fact, the biggest predictor for failed marriages are people who committed too early in life, before they were ready. Here's more on that:
Previous studies compared the divorced rates of couples who cohabited with those who didn't by using the age of marriage. [Researcher Arielle] Kuperberg did something new: She compared the relationships using the date of first moving in together. That date, she reasoned, is when a couple really takes on the roles of marriage, regardless of whether they have a legal certificate.
Using this method, she found no link between whether people had cohabited before marriage and their rate of divorce.
The reason people who cohabit are more likely to get divorced, in other words, is because they were too young when they made a cohabitational commitment. Not because they dared share an address without also sharing a tax return. If you're too young when you get together, even the magic wand of Sexy Jesus' blessing cannot save you.
Not only did Kuperberg and her team find that living in sin doesn't pave the way to Sad Divorcee TV Dinner Town, for some groups statistically more prone to divorce — women with children born outside of marriage, women raised by single parents, or women with a higher than average number of sex partners — are actually less likely to divorce than women who don't shack up before getting married. Depending on who you ask, the "average" woman reports having anywhere between 4 and 8.6. That means if you're a heterosexual lady who has slept with more than, say, 9 or more dudes, you're actually doing yourself a solid by living with a guy before you get married.
This is a factoid that will positively make bowties spin around with rage. Try it out at your next family dinner. Or, just live your life for yourself and don't worry what grandma thinks.
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