The number and percentage of couples choosing to live together before, or instead of, getting married has vastly increased over the past few decades. Couples in America may choose to cohabit either as a prelude or an alternative to marriage, and they may do so for a variety of reasons, from the purely financial to the deeply personal. The practice remains controversial for some, though, and studies conducted over the years have reached conflicting conclusions about what, if any, effect cohabitation may have on a couple's prospects for success in marriage.
A recent opinion piece in the New York Times claims that the total number of cohabiting couples in the U.S. has increased by over 1,500 percent in fifty years, from around 450,000 in 1960 to about 7.5 million today. According to a 2001 nationwide survey conducted by the National Marriage Project, two-thirds of respondents believed living together before marriage would help prevent divorce. The Times author claims that experience suggests otherwise, although she cites a government report that suggests the divorce rate among cohabiting couples is declining. Citing stereotypes about women viewing cohabitation as a step towards marriage and men viewing it as a means of avoiding commitment, she concludes that cohabitation leads to people getting "locked" into marriage and then later divorcing.
A writer at the Huffington Post offers a mismatched comparison of a ten percent cohabitation rate in the 1970's that increased to a rate of fifty percent among women ages fifteen to forty-four in the 1990's. The writer cites research from the University of Denver that claims that people who do not cohabitate, and people who only cohabitate after getting engaged, have "more positive marital relationships," meaning fewer divorces. The researchers reportedly concluded that people who cohabitate before marriage "drift into marriage" with a different level of commitment, a somewhat similar conclusion to that of the New York Times piece.