The Relationship Between Cohabitation and Marital Quality and Stability: Change Across Cohorts?



The relationship between premarital cohabitation and marital dysfunction was examined with a total sample of 1,425 spouses in two U.S. marriage cohorts: those married between 1964 and 1980 (when cohabitation was less common) and those married between 1981 and 1997 (when cohabitation was more common). Spouses in both cohorts who cohabited prior to marriage reported poorer marital quality and greater marital instability. When selection factors for cohabitation and subsequent marital instability were included in the statistical model, cohabitors in both cohorts continued to exhibit poorer marital quality and greater marital instability. These findings lend stronger support to an experience of cohabitation perspective than to a selection perspective as an explanation for why couples who cohabit before marriage tend to have more troubled relationships.