December 27, 2014

SCIENCE: Best predictor of divorce? Age when couples cohabit, study says.

For years, social scientists have tried to explain why living together before marriage seemed to increase the likelihood of a couple divorcing. Now, new research released by the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families gives an answer:

It doesn’t. And it probably never has.

This is despite two decades of warnings from academics and social commentators who pointed to studies that claimed a correlation between “shacking up” and splitting up – warnings that increased as the number of couples living together before marriage skyrocketed.

As it turns out, those studies that linked premarital cohabitation and divorce were measuring the wrong variable, says Arielle Kuperburg, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, who produced much of the research released Monday. The biggest predictor of divorce, she says, is actually the age at which a couple begins living together, whether before the wedding vows or after. . . .

Couples who begin living together without being married tend to be younger than those who move in after the wedding ceremony – that’s why cohabitation seemed to predict divorce, Professor Kuperburg explains. But once researchers control for that age variable, it turns out that premarital cohabitation by itself has little impact on a relationship’s longevity. Those who began living together, unmarried or married, before the age of 23 were the most likely to later split.

Interesting. Even more interesting is that it took this long for anyone to notice. Plus a suggestion that modern marriage is designed to fail without considerable effort:

“Marriages require much more maturity than they once did,” she says. In the 1950s, husband and wives stepped into well-defined gender rolls. “Nowadays, people come to marriage with independent aspirations and much greater ideas of equality. Maturity is so important, and negotiating skills are so much more important.”

Hmm.

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