Marriage vs Cohabitation

Cohabitating couples happier, have better self-esteem than married counterparts

A new study, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family reveals that married couples experience few advantages for psychological well-being, health, or social ties compared to unmarried couples who live together. While both marriage and cohabitation provide benefits over being single, these reduce over time following a honeymoon period.

. . .

Previous research has sought to prove a link between marriage and well-being, but many studies compared marriage to being single, or compared marriages and cohabitations at a single point in time.

This study compares marriage to cohabitation while using a fixed-effects approach that focuses on what changes when single men and women move into marriage or cohabitation and the extent to which any effects of marriage and cohabitation persist over time.

Dr Musick drew a study sample from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH) of 2,737 single men and women, 896 of whom married or moved in with a partner over the course of 6 years. The study focused on key areas of well-being, considering questions on happiness, levels of depression, health, and social ties.

The results showed a spike in well-being immediately following both marriage and cohabitation as couples experienced a honeymoon period with higher levels of happiness and fewer depressive symptoms compared to singles. However, these advantages were short lived.

Marriage and cohabitation both resulted in less contact with parents and friends compared to remaining single – and these effects appeared to persist over time.

“We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period. Also while married couples experienced health gains – likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared healthcare plans – cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem. For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligations than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy, and personal growth” said Musick.

“Compared to most industrial countries America continues to value marriage above other family forms,” concluded Musick. “However our research shows that marriage is by no means unique in promoting well-being and that other forms of romantic relationships can provide many of the same benefits.”

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2 Comments

  1. This was an interesting study to me, and although I feel it should have had a broader scope and time frame, it does re-enforce what I have experienced in my own history of serial monogamy: when the honeymoon is over, it’s over! JG

    Reply
  2. One more thing: since becoming determinately single I have had no conflicts at home. No honeymoon and I am still quite content (and enjoying the peace and quiet). JG

    Reply

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