Couples who live together before marriage more likely to get divorced

One of the weird things about the upcomming royal wedding is just how many times I’ve heard the point made “oh, they’ve lived together too so that’ll help”.

That’s funny, because pretty much all the evidence says the opposite – if you live together before marriage divorce is far more likely.

But what you don’t seem to realize is that you will never know what married life is like unless you’re married. The commitment of marriage adds a dimension to your relationship that puts everything on its ear. Right now, you are testing each other to see if you are compatible. If either of you slips up, the test is over, and you are out the door. Marriage doesn’t work that way. Slip-ups don’t end the marriage. If they’re serious enough, they just end the love you have for each other. Since you’re still committed to each other, you have time to correct the problem and restore your love.

What, exactly, is the commitment of marriage? It is an agreement that you will take care of each other for life, regardless of life’s ups and downs. You will stick it out together through thick and thin. But the commitment of living together isn’t like that at all. It is simply a month-to-month rental agreement. As long as you behave yourself and keep me happy, I’ll stick around.

Now, a google search on the matter revealed a lot of religious sites repeating that sort of thing. Looking past those results, I uncovered some skepticism.

But this is another one of those “correlation does not imply causation” posts.  Here are two interpretations that do not imply the obvious conclusion.

First, suppose one partner is reluctant to get married and has doubts about the relationship. More information would be helpful to decide whether to stay together or break up. If the couple cohabit, that will give them valuable information.  On the other hand, couples who are more confident about their relationship are more likely to get married straight away.  Hence, more stable couples are less likely to live together before marriage than less stable couples.  Living together per se is not the problem.  The real problem is that a deeper source of instability is correlated with cohabitation.

Second – and this theory is implicit in the research – more religious couples are less likely to get divorced and less likely to live together before marriage.  Again, selection explains the data and not cohabiting per se.

So it’s possible that Will and Kate aren’t in the “at risk” sector of the living together population.

I’m sure they’ll be fine…

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