happy older couple, not married
Mental & Emotional Health
Relationships & Love

Live Together or Get Married? Study Finds Similar Emotional Benefits

When it comes to emotional health, couples — especially women — do just as well moving in together as they do getting married, according to a national study done at Ohio State University in December 2015. The team studied young people, but here at thirdAGE we’re guessing the results would be similar for older people.

A release from the university reports that using data collected in the 2000s, researchers found that single young women experienced a similar decline in emotional distress when they moved in with a romantic partner or when they went straight to marriage for the first time.

Men experienced a drop in emotional distress only when they went directly to marriage, not when they moved in with a romantic partner for the first time.

But for young adults who moved on from that first relationship, both men and women received similar emotional boosts whether they moved in with their second partner or got married to them.

The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at The Ohio State University.

As recently as the early 1990s, young people still received emotional health benefits when they went from living together to getting married, Mernitz said.

“Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”

The study appears online in the Journal of Family Psychology and will be published in a future print edition.

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State, said the results may reflect the fact that cohabiting today does not carry the same stigma as in previous generations. Nowadays, about two-thirds of couples live together before marriage.

“At one time marriage may have been seen as the only way for young couples to get the social support and companionship that is important for emotional health,” Kamp Dush said.

“It’s not that way anymore. We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.”

Another significant finding was that the emotional benefits of cohabitation or marriage aren’t limited to first relationships. The study found that young adults experienced a drop in emotional distress when they moved from a first relationship into cohabitation or marriage with a second partner.

“The young people in our study may be selecting better partners for themselves the second time around, which is why they are seeing a drop in emotional distress,” Kamp Dush said.

The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. This study included 8,700 people who were born between 1980 and 1984 and were interviewed every other year from 2000 to 2010.


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