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Marriage and Cohabitation

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America is in the midst of redefining marriage. Some of these redefinitions are talking place in the legislatures and courtrooms. But today I would like to talk about another place where marriage is being redefined. This is happening through cohabitation.

Some individuals merely started out postponing marriage. But over time they ended up postponing marriage indefinitely. An increasing proportion of the population has adopted this “marriage is optional” perspective and never married. They may have had a number of live-in relationships, but they never joined the ranks of those who married. For them singleness was not a transition but a lifestyle.

Over the last few decades, the U.S. Census Bureau has documented the increasing percentage of people who fit into the category of “adults living alone.” These are often lumped into a larger category of “non-family households.” Within this larger category are singles that are living alone as well as a growing number of unmarried, cohabiting couples that are “living together.” The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that in 2000 there were nearly ten million Americans living with an unmarried opposite-sex partner and another 1.2 million Americans living with a same-sex partner.

These numbers are unprecedented. It is estimated that during most of the 1960s and 1970s, only about a half a million Americans were living together. And by 1980, that number was just 1.5 million. Now that number is more than twelve million.

Cohabiting couples are also changing the nature of marriage. Researchers estimate that half of Americans will cohabit at one time or another prior to marriage. And this arrangement often includes children. The traditional stereotype of two young, childless people living together is not completely accurate; currently, some 40 percent of cohabiting relationships involve children.

Marriage may not yet be in the endangered species list, but many more couples are choosing to live together rather than get married.

Viewpoints by Kerby Anderson

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