More U.S. adults aged 18-44 have cohabited than have been married, according to a Pew Research Center report published Nov. 6.
In 2002, 60% of adults in this age range were or had been married, compared to 54% who were or had cohabited with their partners.
Over the next 15 years, the rates reversed. From 2013-2017, an average of 59% of adults reported that they had cohabited and 50% said that they had been married.
Even so, the percentage of all U.S. adults who were married and not separated in 2018 (53% – down from 58% in 1995) far outweighed those who were cohabiting (7% – up from 3% in 1995).
Younger generations have a more accepting view of cohabitation and are the most likely group to think that cohabitation is as likely as marriage to benefit society.
Among respondents aged 18-29, 78% said cohabitation is acceptable even if the couple does not plan to get married, and 55% said society is “just as well off if couples who want to stay together long-term decide not to marry.”
Both positions were above the national averages of 69% of all U.S. adults saying cohabitation is acceptable and 46% that society is just as well off with cohabitating couples compared to married couples.
Younger adults also reported higher rates of cohabitation, with 12% of 18- to 29-year-old respondents saying they were cohabiting in 2018 (up from 5% in 1995).
By comparison, 9% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 4% of 50-year-olds and older said they were currently cohabiting (up from 3% and 1% in 1995, respectively).
Pew found significant differences in respondents’ views based on their religious affiliation.
“Among adults who are religiously unaffiliated, 90% say it’s acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together even if they don’t plan to get married,” Pew said. “Roughly three-quarters of Catholics (74%) and white Protestants who do not self-identify as born-again or evangelical (76%) say the same. Smaller shares of black Protestants (47%) and white evangelical Protestants (35%) share this view.”
Married respondents responded more positively to all measures of trust and satisfaction asked in the survey.
For example, 84% of married respondents trusted their spouse to be faithful to them and 74% to act in their best interest, compared to 71% and 58%, respectively, of cohabiting respondents.
“Even after controlling for demographic differences between married and cohabiting adults (such as gender, age, race, religion and educational attainment), married adults express higher levels of satisfaction, trust and closeness than those who are living with a partner,” the report said.