Comparative studies of European countries show important differences in the prevalence of cohabitation. According to Kiernan's (2000; 2002) analyses of data from the European Commission for 1996, cohabitation was the living arrangement for between 20% and 35% of women, aged 25 to 29 years, in Norway, Sweden, Finland and France, between 10% and 20% in the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and Britain, between 5% and 10% in West Germany, East Germany and Austria, and less than 5% in Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Greece, and Italy. Strong differences also exist within Canada: in 1996, 24.1% of couples residing in Quebec were cohabiting compared with only 10.0% in the rest of Canada.
Wu examines changes in the trends of heterosexual couples living together outside of marriage. He points out that between 1981 and 1996, Canadian census data show that the number of cohabiting couples more than doubled, from 356,000 to more than 920,000 and that common-law unions increased from 6% to 14% of all heterosexual unions. Surprisingly, cohabitation as a lifestyle is particularly popular in the largely Francophone [Catholic] province of Quebec, where nearly 1 out of 4 heterosexual couples in not married, compared to 1 out of 9 elsewhere in Canada. One in every 7 families currently involves unmarried couples, compared with 1 in 17 only 15 years ago. About 50% of cohabiting couples' families also include children, ei ther born to the cohabiting couple or brought into the family from previous relationships. Over two-thirds of cohabiting persons have never been married and over a quarter are divorced. Cohabitations are often short-lived with over 50% of unions ending within 3 years. However, about one-third of cohabiting couples marry each other within 3 years of cohabiting, while one one-quarter dissolve their relationships through separation.
Washington-based Child Trends, in a research brief published in May using the National Center for Education Statistics' Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, finds that 52 percent of nonmarital births are to cohabiting couples. The University of Wisconsin's Center for Demography and Ecology reached the same conclusion in a working paper it expects to publish this summer after analyzing data from the National Center for Health Statistics' National Survey of Family Growth.
That's up from 29 percent in the early 1980s and 39 percent in the early 1990s. "Clearly it's become a normal part of American family life," says Sheela Kennedy, coauthor of the upcoming Wisconsin paper. At a time when the rate of births to teenaged mothers has fallen to record lows, the increase in births to couples living together appears to drive the continued increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing. Overall, more than a third of births in the United States are to unmarried women, up from one-fifth in 1980.
Cohabitation is more prevalent than marriage among very young couples in the United States -- those in which at least one partner is 18 to 20 years of age. However, by age 21, marriage is just as common, and by age 24, young adults are more likely to be married than "living together."
These findings are based on combined data from 59 separate Gallup Poll surveys conducted since January 2006, including nearly 60,000 U.S. adults. This affords an ample number of cases to review the marital status of adults of every age from 18 through 90.
Cohabitation in the United States has increased by more than 1,500 percent in the past half century. In 1960, about 450,000 unmarried couples lived together. Now the number is more than 7.5 million. The majority of young adults in their 20s will live with a romantic partner at least once, and more than half of all marriages will be preceded by cohabitation. This shift has been attributed to the sexual revolution and the availability of birth control, and in our current economy, sharing the bills makes cohabiting appealing.