Cohabitation in the U.S. has Doubled Since the Mid-1990s


A recent study by the Pew Research Center titled “Living Together: The Economics of Cohabitation,” finds that rates of cohabitation in the U.S. have gone up significantly over the last 15 years. Authors Richard Fry and D’Very Cohn use census data from heterosexual couples who (unlike many of their homosexual counterparts) have a choice between getting married, or simply living together unmarried. Fry and Cohn write:

Cohabitation is an increasingly prevalent lifestyle in the United States. The share of 30- to 44-year-olds living as unmarried couples has more than doubled since the mid-1990s.  Adults with lower levels of education—without college degrees—are twice as likely to cohabit as those with college degrees.

Perhaps you already guessed that – the pressure to get married isn’t quite the same as it was 50 years ago.  What’s more interesting though is that the level of education makes a big difference as to how the median household income of cohabiters measures up against their married counterparts.

This report finds that greater economic well-being is associated with cohabitation for adults with college degrees, but not for those without college degrees. The measurement used for economic well-being is median household income, which in this analysis has been adjusted for the size of the household and standardized to a household size of three. Among college-educated adults, the median adjusted household income of cohabiters ($106,400 in 2009) slightly exceeded that of married adults ($101,160) and was significantly higher than that of adults without opposite-sex partners ($90,067). However, among adults without college degrees, the median adjusted household income of cohabiters ($46,540) was well below that of married couples ($56,800) and was barely higher than that of adults without opposite-sex partners ($45,033).

So if you didn’t make it to college… better get married!


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  1. caleb b says:

    For further study: instead of using median household income, use median household cashflow, or something of that nature to adjust for the amount of student loan debt that the average college student acquires.

    People with college degrees earn more than those without, but also acquire more debt, which cancels out some of the benefit (and sometimes all of it) . The numbers above could incorporate this information for a better picture.

    Also, people without college degrees need to be broken out by those that have never attended college, and those that have attended some college. Some college is typically equivalent to no college in the job market, but usually comes with loan debt.

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    • GKB says:

      Do you think these results could be partially due to couples getting married prior to kids, and then one of them (usually wife) reducing work, and therefore income, to care for children?

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    • Neil (SM) says:

      For one thing, student loans are (theoretically) paid off by the time people are in their thirties.

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  2. Slightly Uncomfortable says:

    1) how old is that TV in the picture? Jeeze!
    2) Does anyone else feel uncomfortable about the picture used to represent cohabitation?
    3) If the point is that 30- to 44-year-olds are living together, why show some kids that are clearly under 25?

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  3. RGJ says:

    I would like to see someone contrast the marriage/cohabitation rate with recession eras. Naturally the ethical mores (repetition?) has a big piece of it over the decades, but the marriage tax benefit doesn’t mean much if one partner is unemployed or underemployed. (never mind who wants to marry that person?). Is the marriage rate tied to the income tax benefit? (wonk alert). I would do it but I just bought a whole season of “Arrested Development”. Sorry.

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  4. Ulysses says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  5. CMP says:

    Could it be that in the college-educated group, those who are married are also a bit more likely to have children, thus reducing that group’s amount of out-of-household work?

    Also, in the group without college degrees, could it be that those who make a little bit more money might be more likely to get married, because they can afford a wedding?

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  6. Patrick says:

    I guess this makes sense then:,0,3710371.story

    In Maryland, same sex couples cohabitating has increased in the last 10 years.

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  7. A.P. says:

    There is one aspect that at least in my case made the difference: both my girlfriend and I have six-figure incomes, and getting married would cost us more than 5K a year in added taxes while changing nothing in our everyday life. Seeing us from outside, you would never figure that we are not husband and wife. We’ve been together for more than ten years, have two kids and regularly evaluate if anything changed, because we would love to finally get married, but it simply does not make financial sense. You can say that the fiscal policy has been a significant dissuading agent.

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    • Fred says:

      So you and your girlfriend would love to finally get married, and together you earn more than 200K a year and a significant dissuading agent has been an extra tax of 5K (an impact of less than 2.5%). I think you guys need to realise that everything in life is not about money.

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  8. The Regular Joe says:

    actually it can be expected and I won’t be surprised to see it grow. but it is only one more step of finding a solution that will please our nature

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