Trends in Cohabitation and Marriage in the United States

The new generation of Americans treat cohabitation and marriage differently

What are the trends in marriage and cohabitation in the United States?

In 1958, Mildred Jeter married the man she loved and the father of the child she was expecting, Richard Loving.

Their marriage landed them both behind bars for violating Virginia's ban on interracial marriage.

Ultimately, the Supreme Court reversed the Virginia Court's ruling in 1967 and effectively invalidated laws in 15 other states that prohibited interracial marriages.

Today, people of different races, faiths, and sexual orientations can freely marry in America.

That doesn't necessarily mean more people are choosing to marry.

The changing face of marriage includes people opting for non-traditional relationships over marriage.

Keep reading to learn about what else has changed regarding cohabitation, long-term relationships, and marriage.

What is cohabitation?

Cohabitation goes beyond a platonic roommate situation.

Typically, it is a romantic relationship between nonmarital partners, such as a girlfriend and boyfriend, that live together.

Between 1995 and 2019, the rate of U.S. adults cohabitating more than doubled while the marriage rate declined from 58% to 53%.

Additionally, 59% of adults between 18 and 44 have cohabitated, while only 50% have been married.

Most adults believe that unwed couples should have equal rights to married couples.

Despite growing popularity and approval, most states attach specific legal rights and benefits to marriage but not cohabitation.

Types of formalized relationships

TLC features two shows, Seeking Sister Wife and Sister Wives, that follow the lives of polygamist families.

Because all fifty states criminalize polygamy, each married man is legally married to one woman and "spiritually married" to his other female partners.

Some parts of the country do not allow this marital loophole because marriage laws are enforced differently across states.

Relationship types

States legally recognize the following long-term relationships to varying degrees. Each of these long-term arrangements carries requirements for entering the relationship and separating. If you have questions about your state, you should consult with an attorney who is licensed to practice law in that state.


Cohabitation: unwed cohabitants can provide legal rights to one another by entering into a contract together. Contract laws may vary by state.

Domestic partnership

Domestic partnership: a registered relationship between two people who often cohabitate but are not married. In some states, this may be called a civil union.


Marriage: the legal union of two people as spouses who consensually entered a civil contract together. Marriage laws also vary by state.

Common law marriage

Common law marriage: a legally recognized union in a minority of states despite no marriage license or marriage solemnized by a ceremony.

Cultural influences

Marriage has become less about a business arrangement or strategic alliance and more about love and fulfillment.

In 2014, comedian Sarah Silverman made headlines for tweeting about never wanting to get married.

Silverman described the concept as "barbaric" and had no desire to have the government involved in her love life.

Silverman joins the 59% of U.S. men and 57% of women who do not feel marriage is essential to living a fulfilling life.

Growing wealth inequality, a decline in religious observance, mounting student debt, and an increase in women's income contribute to the rise in cohabitation.

Read more to learn what advantages cohabitation may have over marriage and vice versa.

Pros of cohabitation

From décor to "space issues," Michael Scott and Jan Levinson exemplified unsuccessful cohabitation on The Office.

In real life, many couples enjoy cohabitation and its perks, which include the following:

  • Testing compatibility without having an expensive wedding or taking on in-laws.
  • Being less likely to divorce within the first year of marriage.
  • Saving money. For instance, a couple could save $955.05 per person by cohabitating in San Francisco.
  • Breaking up without involving the court.
  • Raising children that fare as well as children living in married families.
  • Dividing property with their partner after separating without being bound by divorce laws, although each state's laws may vary in this regard.

Cons of cohabitation

Protestant Rev. Troy Dixon refuses to marry cohabitating couples "until they have separated and are living in separate homes for at least six months" to protect the sanctity of marriage.

Dixon may want to cite the following statistics in his next sermon:

Pros of marriage

Despite the rise in cohabitation, more adults between the ages of 18 to 44 are spouses than cohabitants.

Some of the benefits married couples enjoy include:

  • Experiencing higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust than cohabitating partners.
  • Being eligible for certain tax breaks when they file taxes jointly.
  • In some states, asserting the marital communications privilege to avoid testifying against their spouse.
  • Qualifying for Social Security, Medicare, and disability benefits based on their spouse's work.
  • Inheriting a portion of their spouse's estate, depending on the state's inheritance and probate laws.
  • Making medical decisions on behalf of their spouse if he or she becomes incapacitated, depending on the state's laws.

Cons of marriage

Oprah Winfrey has had a spiritual partnership with Stedman Graham for the last thirty-five years.

Although she said yes to his proposal, Winfrey never walked down the aisle because she did not want the "day-in-and-day-out commitment required to make the marriage work."

Oprah and her billions can avoid the following disadvantages of marriage:

  • More contentious breakups, especially if one or both spouse uses financial issues as leverage on child custody issues.
  • Paying more in taxes due to the "marriage tax penalty."
  • Paying spousal support, depending on the State's laws. Spousal support laws (sometimes called alimony) may vary significantly by state.
  • Dividing assets that can become complicated or contentious, depending on the state's laws.
  • Increasing their child's risk of divorce as adults if they foster a high-conflict household.
  • Paying attorney's fees for a divorce, which may average $15,000-$30,000, and that is not even for a complex case.

Trends by nature are subject to change

Today's fads are tomorrow's outdated customs.

What matters is continuing to protect freedom of choice and an individual's right to pursue happiness while cohabitating, married, or single.

We wish you that kind of happiness.