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Thirty Years of Change in Women’s Premarital Cohabitation Experience
Paul Hemez & Wendy D. Manning
FP-17-05
Figure 1. Percentage of Women (15-44) Who Cohabited with Their First Husband, by Marriage Cohort
Cohabitation prior to marriage has become a normative living arrangement in the U.S. The current profile examines shifts in the proportion of women who lived with their first husband before marriage by comparing the experiences of two marriage cohorts (1980-1984 and 2010-2014). We use the 1988 and 2011-2015 cycles of the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) to estimate the share of women who cohabited with their spouse prior to marriage in each cohort, as well as examine differences by race/ethnicity and educational attainment. Note that our analytical sample is not representative of the cohabitation experiences of all women in the U.S. because we only consider those who have ever married. This profile references different-sex couples due to data constraints.
Two-fifths of women who first married between 1980 and 1984 lived with their husband before marriage.
Changes in the Percentage of Women Who Ever Cohabited
Sources: 1980-1984 Marriage Cohort, 1988 NSFG; 2010-2014 Marriage Cohort, 2011/15 NSFG
Among women who first married between 2010 and 2014, seven in ten cohabited with their spouse prior to the wedding. The proportion of women who lived with their spouse prior to marriage increased by 75% over a thirty-year period.
The share of women who cohabited with their spouse prior to marriage grew among all racial and ethnic groups between the 1980/84 and 2010/14 marriage cohorts.
Premarital Cohabitation of First Marriage Cohorts by Race and Ethnicity
The increase in cohabitation prior to marriage was lowest for White women (71%) and greatest for Hispanic women (87%). Hispanic women now surpass White women in cohabitation prior to marriage.
Black women more often lived with their spouse prior to marriage than Whites or Hispanics.
Figure 2. Percentage of Women (15-44) Who Cohabited with Their First Husband, by Marriage Cohort and Race/Ethnicity
Sources: 1980-1984 Marriage Cohort, 1988 NSFG; 2010-2014 Marriage Cohort, 2011/15 NSFG Note: We exclude respondents who report other or multiple racial/ethnic statuses from Figure 2 due to small cell sizes, but they are include in the overall totals.
Suggested Citation:
Across all educational levels, the share of women who cohabited with their first husband prior to marriage increased over time.
Premarital cohabitation experience increased the most among women with a high school education between the 1980/84 and 2010/14 marriage cohorts.
Figure 3. Percentage of Women (15-44) Who Cohabited with Their First Husband, by Marriage Cohort and Educational Attainment  
Sources: 1980-1984 Marriage Cohort, 1988 NSFG; 2010-2014 Marriage Cohort, 2011/15 NSFG
Cohabitation prior to marriage remained most common among women with less than a high school education and least common among those with at least a Bachelor’s degree.
Premarital Cohabitation of First Marriage Cohorts by Educational Attainment  
Premarital Cohabitation more common today than 30 years ago.
005 Williams Hall Bowling Green State University Bowling Green, OH 43403
This project is supported with assistance from Bowling Green State University. From 2007 to 2013, support was also provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation. The opinions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the author(s) and should not be construed as representing the opinions or policy of any agency of the state or federal government.
National Center for Family & Marriage Research
Family Profiles: Original reports summarizing and analyzing nationally representative data with the goal to provide the latest analysis of U.S. families. These profiles examine topics related to the NCFMR's core research themes.
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