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Cohabitation is when people live together in an emotionally- and/or physically-intimate relationship. The term is most frequently applied to couples who are not married.

People may live together for any of a number of reasons. These may include wanting to test compatibility or to establish financial security before marrying. It may also be because they are unable to legally marry, because for example same-sex, interracial or interreligious marriages are not legal or permitted. Other reasons include living with someone before marriage as a way to avoid divorce, a way for polygamists or polyamorists to avoid breaking the law, a way to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income married couples (in the United States), negative effects on pension payments (among older people), philosophical opposition to the institution of marriage and seeing little difference between the commitment to live together and the commitment to marriage. Some individuals may also choose cohabitation because they see their relationships as being private and personal matters, and not to be controlled by political, religious or patriarchal institutions.

Some couples prefer cohabitation because it does not legally commit them for an extended period, and because it is easier to establish and dissolve without the legal costs often associated with a divorce. In some jurisdictions cohabitation can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period, or the birth of the couple's child, or if the couple consider and behave accordingly as husband and wife. (This helps provide the surviving partner a legal basis for inheriting the deceased's belongings in the event of the death of their cohabiting partner.)

Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among people in the Western world, especially those who desire marriage but whose financial situation temporarily precludes it, or who wish to prepare for what married life will be like before actually getting married, or because they see no benefit or value offered by marriage. More and more couples choose to have long-term relationships without marriage, and cohabit as a permanent arrangement.


In the Western world, a man and a woman who lived together without being married were once socially shunned and persecuted and potentially prosecuted by law. In some jurisdictions, cohabitation was illegal until relatively recently. Other jurisdictions have created a Common-law marriage status when two people of the opposite sex live together for a prescribed period of time. Most jurisdictions no longer persecute this private choice.

Opposition to cohabitation comes mainly from religious groups. Opponents of cohabitation usually argue that living together in this fashion is less stable and hence harmful. According to one argument, the total and unconditional commitment of marriage strengthens a couple's bond and makes the partners feel more secure, more relaxed, and happier than those that have chosen to cohabitation. Opponents of cohabitation commonly cite statistics that indicate that couples who have lived together before marriage are more likely to divorce, and that unhappiness, ill health, poverty, and domestic violence are more common in unmarried couples than in married ones. Cohabitation advocates, in turn, cite limited research that either disproves these claims or indicates that the statistical differences are due to other factors than the fact of cohabitation itself.

Cohabitation worldwide

United States


In most parts of the United States, there is no legal registration or definition of cohabitation, so demographers have developed various methods of identifying cohabitation and measuring its prevalence. Most important of these is the Census Bureau, which currently describes an "unmarried partner" as "A person age 15 years and over, who is not related to the householder, who shares living quarters, and who has a close personal relationship with the householder. Before 1995, the Bureau euphemistically identified any "unrelated" opposite-sex couple living with no other adults as POSSLQs, or Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters., and they still report these numbers to show historical trends. However, such measures should be taken loosely, as researchers report that cohabitation often does not have clear start and end dates, as people move in and out of each other's homes and sometimes do not agree on the definition of their living arrangement at a particular moment in time.

In 2001, in the United States 8.2% of couples were calculated to be cohabiting.

In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 4.85 million cohabiting couples, up more than 1,000 percent from 1960, when there were 439,000 such couples. A 2000 study found that more than half of newlyweds have lived together, at least briefly, before walking down the aisle.

The cohabiting population is inclusive of all ages, but the average cohabiting age group is between 25-34. This is a meaningless statistic however, as the average married population is in this range also.


In one study, Jay Teachman, a researcher at Western Washington University, studied premarital cohabitation of women who are in a monogamous relationship. Teachman’s study showed "women who are committed to one relationship, who have both premarital sex and cohabit only with the man they eventually marry, have no higher incidence of divorce than women who abstain from premarital sex and cohabitation. For women in this category, premarital sex and cohabitation with their eventual husband are just two more steps in developing a committed, long-term relationship.

Some people have claimed that those who live together before marriage can report having less satisfying marriages and have a higher chance of separating. A possible explanation for this trend could be that people who cohabit prior to marriage did so because of apprehension towards commitment, and when, following marriage, marital problems arose (or, for that matter, before marriage, when relationship problems arose during the cohabitation arrangement), this apprehension was more likely to translate into an eventual separation. It should be noted this model cites antecedent apprehension concerning commitment as the cause of increased break ups and cohabitation only as an indicator of such apprehension. Another explanation is that those who choose not to cohabit prior to marriage are often more conservative in their religious views, a mindset that might prevent them from divorcing for religious reasons despite experiencing marital problems no less severe than those encountered by former cohabitants. In addition, the very act of living together may lead to attitudes that make happy marriages more difficult. The findings of one recent study, for example, suggest "there may be less motivation for cohabiting partners to develop their conflict resolution and support skills." (One important exception: cohabiting couples who are already planning to marry each other in the near future have just as good a chance at staying together as couples who don’t live together before marriage).

Legal status

Some places, including the state of California, have laws that recognize cohabiting couples as "domestic partners". In California, such couples are defined as people who "have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring," including having a "common residence, and are the same sex or persons of opposite sex if one or both of the persons are over the age of 62 This recognition led to the creation of a "Domestic Partners Registry", granting them limited legal recognition and some rights similar to those of married couples.

Half a century ago, it was illegal in every state for adult lovers to live together without being married. Today, on the other hand, just five (5) states (Mississippi, Virginia, Florida, North Dakota and Michigan) still criminalize cohabitation by opposite-sex couples, although anti-cohabitation laws are generally not enforced. Many legal scholars believe that in light of in Lawrence v. Texas, such laws making cohabitation illegal are unconstitutional (North Carolina Superior Court judge Benjamin Alford has struck down the North Carolina law on that basis).


  • In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, cohabitation is very common; roughly 50% of all children are born into families of unmarried couples, whereas the same figure for several other Western European countries is roughly 10%. Some couples decide to marry later.
  • In late 2005, 21% of families in Finland consisted of cohabitating couples (all age groups). Of couples with children, 18% were cohabitating. Of ages 18 and above in 2003, 13.4% were cohabitating. Generally, cohabitation amongst Finns is most common for people under 30. Legal obstacles for cohabitation were removed in 1926 in a reform of the Finnish penal code, while the phenomenon was socially accepted much later on among non-Christian Finns.
  • In the UK, 25% of children are now born to cohabitating parents.
  • In France, 17.5% of couples were cohabiting as of 1999.

Middle East

  • The cohabitation rate in Israel is less than 3% of all couples, compared to 8%, on average, in West European countries.
  • Cohabitation is illegal according to sharia law (for the countries that enforce it)


  • In India, cohabitation had been taboo since British rule. However, this is no longer true in big cities, but is still often found in rural areas with more conservative values. Female live-in partners have economic rights under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.
  • In Japan, according to M. Iwasawa at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, less than 3% of females between 25-29 are currently cohabiting, but more than 1 in 5 have had some experience of an unmarried partnership, including cohabitation. A more recent Iwasawa study has shown that there has been a recent emergence of non marital cohabitation. Couples born in the 1950s cohort showed an incidence of cohabitation of 11.8%, where the 1960s and 1970s cohorts showed cohabitation rates of 30%, and 53.9% respectively. The split between urban and rural residence for people who had cohabited is indicates 68.8% were urban and 31.2% were rural.
  • In the Philippines, around 2.4 million Filipinos were cohabiting as of 2004. The 2000 census placed the percentage of cohabiting couples at 19%. The majority of individuals are between the ages of 20-24. Poverty was often the main factor in decision to cohabit.



  • In Canada, 16.0% of couples were cohabiting as of 2001 (29.8.% in Quebec, and 11.7% in the other provinces).


  • In Mexico, 18.7% of couples were cohabiting as of 2005.

See also

In :

  • Ley de sociedad de convivencia: the Spanish name for "Cohabitation Societies Law" (a Wikipedia article not yet translated into English), a legislation created on November 9, 2006, by the Legislation Assembly of Mexico City to establish legal rights and duties for all those cases where two people (due to either sexual, familial or friendly reasons) are living together.


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