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Cohabitation before marriage? It's no greater divorce risk.

New divorce and marriage research shows that contrary to popular wisdom, cohabitation before marriage carries no extra risk of divorce - at least not when a couple plans to get married.

By The Associated Press / March 22, 2012

What makes a marriage last? The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed 22,000 men and women about marriage and divorce, and how to make a good marriage. The results: contrary to popular opinion, cohabitation doesn't carry increased divorce risk.

Ari Denison / The Christian Science Monitor

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Atlanta

Nearly half of first marriages break up within 20 years, a new government study finds. With those odds, you might wonder: Would we be better off living together first?

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The new research, part of a marriage survey of 22,000 men and women, suggests times have changed from the days when cohabitation before marriage signaled higher chances for divorce later.

"It's not playing as big a role in predicting divorce as it used to," said Casey Copen, lead author of the study "First Marriages in the United States: Data From the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth."

Living together before marriage has been a steady, growing trend.

In the late 1960s, only about 10 percent of American couples moved in together first, and they ended up with higher divorce rates.

Today, about 60 percent of couples live together before they first marry.

"It's becoming so common, it's not surprising it no longer negatively affects marital stability," said Wendy Manning, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio.

Researchers with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked for trends in first marriages. They interviewed men and women ages 15 to 44 during the years 2006 to 2010. About 40 percent were married.

The study found those who were engaged and living together before the wedding were about as likely to have marriages that lasted 15 years as couples who hadn't lived together.

But what about the couples who were living together but weren't engaged? The new study found marriage was less likely to survive to the 10- and 15-year mark among couples who weren't engaged when they lived together – findings similar to earlier research.

For example, for women, there was about a 60 percent likelihood a marriage would survive 15 years if the couple either hadn't lived together before the wedding or were engaged while they were sharing the same living space. But if no firm marriage commitment was made while she and her boyfriend were living together, the likelihood the marriage would last 15 years fell to 53 percent. The numbers were similar for men.

Potential explanations include more lax attitudes about commitment, lower education levels or family histories that made these couples more pessimistic about marriage, Copen said.

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