Trends in Premarital Cohabitation

April 4, 2013

A new report from NCHS presents national estimates of first premarital cohabitations with a male partner for women aged 15–44 in the United States using the 2006–2010 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).  Trends in pregnancies within first premarital cohabiting unions and differences by Hispanic origin and race, and education are also presented.

Estimates from the report show that nearly half (48%) of women aged 15-44 in 2006–2010 cohabited outside marriage as a first union, compared with 43% in 2002 and 34% in 1995.  The term “first union” refers to either a first marriage or first cohabitation.  A lower percentage of first unions among women in 2006-10 were marriages (23%) vs. 30% in 2002 and 39% in 1995.  The largest proportion of premarital cohabitations among women (40%) transitioned to marriage by 3 years, whereas 32% did not transition to marriage but remained intact and 27% dissolved.  Nearly 1 in 5 women in 2006-10 became pregnant in the first year of premarital cohabitation (and went on to give birth). The probability of marriage for these women within six months of becoming pregnant was lower in 2006-10 (19%) than in 1995 (32%).

Key findings from the report:

  • Over 1 in 4 women in 2006-2010 had cohabited by age 20; almost 3 in 4 had cohabited by age 30.
  • The length of first premarital cohabitation was longer in 2006-2010 (22 months) compared with 1995 (13 months).
  • Almost half of premarital cohabitations for white women became marriages by 3 years. As a result, premarital cohabitations for white women didn’t last as long (19 months) as premarital cohabitations for foreign-born Hispanic women (33 months), black women (27 months), and U.S.-born Hispanic women (25 months).
  • Between 1995 and 2006-2010, premarital cohabitations as a first union increased by 57% for Hispanic women, 43% for white women, and 39% for black women.
  • In 2006-10, 70% of women with less than a high school diploma cohabited as a first union, compared with 47% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Premarital cohabitations for women with less than a high school diploma were less likely to result in marriage by 3 years compared with those for women with a bachelor’s degree or higher.