Marriage and Cohabitation in the U.S.. By: Horowitz, Juliana Menasce; Graf, Nikki; and Livingston, Gretchen. 2019. Pew Research Center.

Married Adults More Satisfied With Their Relationships, More Trusting of Partners Than Those Cohabiting, New Pew Research Center Survey Finds

Survey also finds that most Americans are accepting of cohabitation as share of adults who have lived with a romantic partner is now higher than share who have ever been married

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Nov. 6, 2019) – A new survey released today by Pew Research Center explores public views about marriage and cohabitation, the experiences of adults who are married or living with an unmarried partner and the factors behind the decision to marry or live with an unmarried partner.

As the share of U.S. adults ages 18 to 44 who have ever lived with an unmarried partner (59%) has surpassed the share who have ever been married (50%), the new survey finds that 69% of adults say it is acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together, even if they don’t plan to get married.

The survey also finds that married adults are more satisfied with various aspects of their relationship and are more trusting of their partners than those who are cohabiting. Larger shares of married than cohabiting adults say they are very satisfied with the way household chores are divided between them and their partner (46% vs. 37%), how well their partner balances work and personal life (44% vs. 35%), how well they and partner communicate (43% vs. 35%), and their partner’s approach to parenting (48% to 39%). Married adults are also more likely than those who are cohabiting to express a great deal of trust in their partner to be faithful to them (84% vs. 71%), act in their best interest (74% vs. 58%), always tell them the truth (68% vs. 52%) and handle money responsibly (56% vs. 40%).

A majority of adults (59%) also say that unmarried couples who are living together can raise children just as well as married couples, and 65% favor allowing unmarried couples to enter into legal agreements that would give them the same rights as married couples when it comes to things like health insurance, inheritance or tax benefits. Still, a narrow majority (53%) says society is better off if couples who want to stay together in the long term eventually get married.

Additional findings in this report:

Many cohabiting adults see living together as a step toward marriage. About two-thirds of married adults who lived with their spouse before they were married (and who were not engaged when they moved in together) say they saw cohabitation as a step toward marriage when they first started living together. Among cohabiting adults who were not engaged when they moved in with their partner, 44% say they saw living together as a step toward marriage.
About four-in-ten (41%) cohabiting adults who are not currently engaged say they want to get married someday. Among them, about half say their partner’s (53%) or their own (56%) lack of financial readiness is a major or minor reason why they’re not engaged or married to their current partner. Roughly four-in-ten (44%) cite not being far enough along in their job or career as a major or minor reason. And similar shares say they (44%) or their partner (47%) not being ready to make that kind of commitment is at least a minor reason.
About four-in-ten cohabiting adults cite finances (38%) and convenience (37%) as major reasons why they moved in with their partner. About a quarter (23%) say wanting to test their relationship was a major factor in their decision to move in with their partner. Far smaller shares of married adults cite finances (13%) and convenience (10%) as major reasons why they decided to get married. About six-in-ten (63%) say making a formal commitment was a major reason why they decided to get married.
About half of U.S. adults (48%) say couples who live together before marriage have a better chance of having a successful marriage than those who don’t. Younger adults are especially likely to see cohabitation as a path to a successful marriage. About six-in-ten adults ages 18 to 29 (63%) do so, compared with about half of those ages 30 to 49 and about four-in-ten of those ages 50 and older.
Relatively small shares of U.S. adults say being married is essential for a man (16%) or a woman (17%) to live a fulfilling life, with far larger shares saying that having a job or career they enjoy is essential for a man (57%) or a woman (46%). When asked more generally about the importance of being in a committed romantic relationship, 26% say it’s essential for a man, and 30% say it’s essential for a woman.

The nationally representative survey of 9,834 U.S. adults was conducted online June 25-July 8, 2019, using Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel. The survey includes 5,579 married adults and 880 adults who are living with an unmarried partner, including married and cohabiting adults in same-sex relationships.

The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 1.5 percentage points. The study also includes analysis of Current Population Survey and National Survey of Family Growth data.