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Does premarital cohabitation increase the likelihood of future marital dissolution?

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This study examines whether premarital cohabitation increases one’s likelihood of future marital dissolution. We use data from the 2015–2017 National Survey of Family Growth, which surveyed 5554 women aged 15–49. Premarital cohabitation predicts a substantially higher rate of marital dissolution, with a 31.4% divorce rate among those who had cohabited before marriage compared to a 25.9% rate among those who had not. However, some of this relationship is driven by the fact that cohabiting couples were also less religious and less likely to come from an intact family, factors which independently predict divorce. Our regression analysis controlling for these and other differences shows that cohabitation leads to a smaller, but still statistically and practically significant, 4.6 percentage point increase in the rate of marital dissolution.

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All data generated or analyzed during this study are included in this article’s supplementary information files.

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Stata code for this study is included in this article’s supplementary information files.


  1. There were no statistically significant differences by race and poverty, which are included in the table but not mentioned above. The lack of a significant association with poverty is surprising, given the economic benefits of combining households (Jamison 2018).

  2. The regression results differ most sharply from the simple cross-tabulation of Table 2 for premarital births; while women who had a child before marriage are substantially more likely to divorce, this appears to be entirely driven by confounding factors, so that the actual causal effect of the premarital birth is to reduce divorce.


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Correspondence to James Bailey.

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Kerrigan, S., Bailey, J. Does premarital cohabitation increase the likelihood of future marital dissolution?. SN Soc Sci 1, 123 (2021).

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