In a recent article posted on Time.com about the effect that shacking up before marriage has on relationships, experts weigh in and suggest that “past studies have overstated the risk of divorce for cohabiting couples.” In a paper in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family, Arielle Kuperberg, assistant professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, says that “the important characteristic is not whether people lived together first, but how old they were when they decided to share a front door.” Kuperberg says: “It turns out that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did. What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone – with or without a marriage license – before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship.” So, what’s the magic age when people are able to choose appropriate partners and behave maturely in relationships? According to Kuperberg, it’s 23. “It is unwise,” she says, “to either move in or get married before the age of 23.”
But other family experts say that even 23 isn’t old enough to sustain healthy, long-term relationships: “Economist Evelyn Lehrer (University of Illinois-Chicago) says the longer people wait past 23, the more likely a marriage is to stick. In fact, Lehrer’s analysis of longitudinal data shows that for every year a woman waits to get married, right up until her early 30s, she reduces her chances of divorce.”
As a personal anecdote, I moved in with a boyfriend when I was 24. I moved in with him not because I wanted to marry him and cohabitating was a first step in that direction. I moved in with him because it was convenient and cost-effective — probably the same reason a lot of young couples move in together. Needless to say, that relationship did not last. He was a really sweet guy, and I learned a lot during the three years we lived together — especially about what my needs were in a partner. Several years later I met Drew, and I moved in with him when I was 31 and married him when I was 32.
If Lehrer is right, waiting until 32 to get married, when I was mature enough to choose a more appropriate partner, rather than getting married to my first live-in boyfriend when I was 24, greatly reduced my chances of divorce. Time will have to tell, of course, but I would have to say I whole-heartedly agree with the hypothesis, and not just because my own personal history supports it (so far), but because the relationships I see around me — my friends’ and people I know and those of advice-seekers who write to me — also support it. With some exceptions, couples who move in together, with or without a marriage license, before their mid-20s, seem to have rockier relationships than those who wait a few years longer. The upside is that breakups and divorces don’t kill you and you often learn a lot from those “starter marriages” that will come in handy the next time you move in with someone.
[article and image via Time.com]