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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.

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The experience of living together before marriage is different for different people, said Richard Settersten Jr., an Oregon State University professor of human development and family science.

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Some young people put off marriage because they're pursuing a college education and starting a career. For them,"cohabitation is a trial marriage, usually without kids, that often ends in marriage," Settersten said.

Others – in many cases, people not on a college track – move from one living-together relationship to another, some of them producing children, he said.

Commitment has made a difference. In interviews with some women who have been married 20 years or more after living with their spouse first, firm belief in a future together was a common theme.

"I sort of knew he would be part of my life long-term.... I wasn't thinking, 'He's moving in with me, is he ever going to marry me?'" said Hillary Mickell, a San Francisco woman who first moved in with her husband when they were students at Boston University.

But this was in 1985, and she did try to hide their situation from her parents in California, sometimes telling them her beau answered the phone because there had been a snowstorm and he was stuck in her apartment. "It became a running joke – there are blizzards in Boston nine months a year," said Mickell, co-founder of a social network site for recipe exchanges.

The CDC study also concluded:

– Nearly half of first marriages will break up within 20 years – a statistic identical to what other studies have found.

– The percentage of young women currently living with a male partner grew from 3 percent in 1982 to 11 percent recently.

– Women and men with bachelor's degrees were more likely to delay marriage but also more likely to eventually get married and stayed married for at least 20 years.

– Asian women were the most likely to be in a first marriage that lasted at least 20 years. Nearly 70 percent of Asian women were still in their first marriage, compared to 54 percent of white women, 53 percent of Hispanic women and 37 percent of black women.

Among men, 62 percent of Hispanics were still in their first marriage at 20 years, compared to 54 percent of whites and 53 percent of blacks. The study did not have statistics for Asian men.

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