If truth be known though, even many evangelical young people are choosing to live together and have sex before marriage. They compartmentalize the teaching of the church on this issue and have accepted this as a normal practice of society. The moral teachings on this subject are not enough to sway their decisions.
But the religious conservatives who have been warning of and working against this trend are now being aided by a growing number of social scientists that recognize cohabitation is not a good choice, especially for those wanting healthy and permanent marriages.
First lets consider some statistics.
Premarital cohabitation has increased significantly in the last couple of decades. What was once frowned upon as immoral and unacceptable is now widely accepted. More than 70% of US couples now cohabit before marriage.
Let’s look at it another way. In 1960, there were 90 married couples for every cohabiting couple. Pretty rare. By the turn of the century there were 12 married couples for every cohabiting couple. No longer rare. Today, there are only 7 married couples for every cohabiting couple. Very soon it will be marriage that will be rare. If trends continue we may end up like Sweden where there is one married couple for every 1 cohabiting couple.
So why has it increased so dramatically? First we must consider the changing moral landscape. As the church has lost influence in the culture, the traditional moral underpinning has given way to alternative choices. The Durkheim Constant, with it’s tendency to define deviancy down, has certainly played a part. But there is a practical aspect of this that may surprise you.
The divorce rate has actually had a huge impact on this issue. As the divorce rate has increased so has the rate of cohabitation. And as the cohabitation rate has increased so has the rate of divorce. It’s a catch 22 scenario.
According to surveys, the major reason given for supporting premarital cohabitation is that it enables couples to get know each better and to see whether they get along well enough to embark on marriage. Today’s young people fear divorce and they are especially afraid of the many negative consequences associated with it. This isn't surprising considering how many in this generation have witnessed their parents divorce and personally experience the pain of that event.
The majority of those choosing cohabitation believe that living together will lessen the chances of divorce because in their minds it gives them a chance to tests the strength of the relationship before the full commitment of marriage.
However, counter-intuitively, many studies have found that premarital cohabitation is actually associated with increased risk of divorce, a lower quality of marriage, poorer marital communication, and even higher levels of domestic violence. In other words, the decision to live together to avoid the problems associated with a bad marriage is actually causing the very things people are wanting to avoid.
Consider these numbers. Those who live together before marriage are almost twice as likely to divorce that those who did not. Those who cohabitate more than once prior to marriage have much higher rates of later divorce - 26% for women and 19% for men. And, women who cohabited are 3.3 times more likely to have a have an affair when married. It is pretty clear from the data that cohabitation is having the opposite effect than intended.
We can preach about the virtues of marriage every Sunday. We can call cohabitation sin and preach judgment against those who participate. Theologically we would be right. Morally we would be justified. But would we accomplish our goal? Perhaps a different approach would yield better results. Would an evidence based argument be more effective?
Dr. Jay has also discovered that couples are "sliding, not deciding" into cohabitation. For most it isn't a conscience decision. Sliding means that an initial dating relationship accelerates into a sexual relationship and, after initially just staying over at the partner's place, they gradually added a toothbrush, a change of clothes, personal hygiene items and eventually all their things. Another word for it would be "mission creep."
This research reveals that sex is central to this issue. No surprises there. It is at this basic level that the argument must be won and here too we have evidence to support that this is not a good choice for those who want to be happily married.
Researchers have found that in general women see cohabitation as a step toward marriage. But men see it as a way to enjoy the relationship without having to make any commitment to marriage. There is an old saying, “why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free.” Seems crude but research shows it is accurate.
Both men and women in the research agree on one thing: that their standards for a live-in partner are lower than their standards for a marriage partner. Evidence is now clear that those lower standards are causing many problems.
What are some of the effects cohabitation has on children born out of wedlock?
About 40% of cohabiting households have children but cohabiting couples have an 80% chance that their relationship will end: 40% breakup before they marry, the other 40% breakup within 10 years of marrying. Only 4 out of 10 born to cohabiting couples will see their parents marry.
This means there are a lot of children that will spend a significant amount of their childhood with one of their parents (usually the father) absence. These children will be raised by a single parent, who is more likely to be poor, and they will experience a host of related social problems from educational to behavioral.
We can see from the evidence that cohabitation is not a stand alone issue. The decision to live together is largely influenced by a divorce rate that now hovers at 50%. Those who experienced their parents splitting are twice as likely to cohabtate. But their reactive choices are contributing to a downward spiral of social repercussions that threaten to overwhelm our society.
Here is something to consider. If this generation is cohabiting in order to avoid the pains of divorce, what will their children do to avoid the pains associated with cohabitation when they get into relationships?
Christian Apologist Chuck Colson was right on the mark when has said that cohabitation is training for divorce. In fact, the entire modern way of dating is practice for divorce. The philosophy of finding a mate that says it’s “better to shop around before you settle down” may seem on the surface good advice but lets think about that for a minute.
If the goal is a happy, till-death-do-us-part, kind of marriage then this idea of shopping around, either in dating or cohabitation, is really training for breaking up not for staying together. Especially since our society now encourages romantic relationships at very young ages. By the time a young woman or man today is ready for marriage they might have already had dozens of dating relationships, multiple sexual partners, and maybe two or three cohabiting relationships before they get married.
Each separation, every break up, all those splits, they were practicing non-commitment. this kind of serial relationships actually creates low tolerance for unhappiness in a relationships. Like modern consumers, they rather upgrade their relationship or switch brands than to be inconvenienced.
What young people must be convinced of is that marriage is not a consumer product that you give a try to see how it suits you. Marriage is a leaving of all other relationships to give yourself completely to your beloved. Cohabitation says, "I'm not sure about you. Can I give you test-drive to see what I think?" Marriage says, "I want all of you and I want to give all of myself to you!"
This is why cohabitation and marriage are such very different kinds of relationships. It is why the social sciences have come to the sames conclusions as the scriptures that living together before marriage is a very bad idea.
Jennifer Fullwiler from the National Catholic Register gives five secular reasons not to cohabit.
1. It makes it too easy to drift into marriage
Practical problems like financial pressures or roommate issues can make moving in with your boyfriend or girlfriend seem to be the easiest solution, whether or not you're certain that this is the person you want to be with for the rest of your life. Then, as the months turn into years and you're still under the same roof, you naturally start thinking about marriage -- if nothing else because it seems to be the next logical step.
2. It makes the proposal anti-climactic
A proposal, if you're already living together lacks a certain gravitas. If you're already engaging in all the intimacy and sacrifice that comes with making a home together, the moment of the big decision has long passed; in a way, your engagement is already over even before rings get involved. Which brings us to the next point.
3. It renders most wedding traditions meaningless
Most wedding traditions become obsolete when we view the institution from the lens of secular culture, but a few of our cherished rituals that couples most look forward to when planning a wedding are particularly hollow and superfluous if you're already living together. In other words, what’s the point.
4. It sends the message that marriage isn't important to you
Most people don't intend to send this message when they move in with their significant others; many people chose to live together first out of a desire to avoid divorce. However, the message that a cohabitation couples sends to one another they set up house before a wedding is that marriage isn't that important or worth waiting for.
5. It limits your options
Marriage is the most life-changing commitment anyone will ever make, and so it makes sense to order the entire dating life toward that goal. But when individuals are paired up with someone who is not ideal for them, they are missing opportunities to meet the person who is -- and living together makes it hard to escape a lukewarm relationships. .
I would like to add one more secular reason to the list. It is one I can personally attest to from my experience working in child protective services and later teaching college level courses on the subject..
6. Living together outside of marriage negatively impacts their children.
Researchers from the National Marriage Project, found that children living with cohabiting biological parents who are unmarried are 20 times more likely to be abused and children whose mother lives with a boyfriend who is not the biological father are 33 times more likely to be abused than children with married biological parents. Compared to children in intact families, children in cohabiting households had more behavioral problems and poorer academic scores.
In conclusion, every empirical study indicates that cohabitation is not a good choice, especially if your goal is to be happily married with healthy children. Both the moral argument and the empirical data agree, living together before marriage is a very bad idea.
In short, cohabitation sticks.