A new national study suggests that the trend toward cohabiting continues its forward march for young adults, many of whom still expect to marry someday.

More than three-quarters of 20- to 24-year-olds in the U.S. said they believe that "love, fidelity, and making a lifelong commitment are very important to a successful relationship." Women, predictably, aspire to marriage at significantly higher rates than men. Perhaps less predictably, married young adults tend to have negative views of living together with no intent to marry, even though (or perhaps because) more than half of them have cohabited themselves.

In 2008, the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University published "Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Well-being," a report in which sociologist David Popenoe traces the history of cohabitation back through the sexual revolution. He concludes,

It should be obvious … that in an era of relatively unrestricted premarital sex, women in the work place, delayed marriage, and high marital breakup, there is a profound logic - almost an inevitability - about the practice of living together before marriage. What are the alternatives?
Either marriage at a young age (not a good idea because, among other reasons, it limits access to higher education and is associated with a much higher risk of divorce), no sex before marriage (hard to imagine reinstituting this social norm across the population), or 'sleeping around' rather than living with one sex partner (not good for a variety of reasons). It seems likely, therefore, that non-marital cohabitation is a practice that is not going away anytime soon.

Popenoe, former co-chair of the Council on Families in America, and author most recently of Families Without Fathers, doesn't ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.