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Shacking Up: Most Americans Approve of Cohabitation

dangers of premarital sex
The Dangers of Premarital Sex according to the married Catholic Ada Eze

According to a June 2016 Barna Group study, two-thirds of Americans believe it is okay for couples to live together without the benefit of marriage. The study found:

The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is generally a good idea. Two thirds of adults (65%) either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married, compared to one-third (35%) who either strongly or somewhat disagree.

It comes as no surprise that Millennials — mirroring the sexual revolution of their Boomer parents — are twice as likely to approve of cohabitation than their grandparents and great-grandparents:

barna cohabitation 2016

It should also come as no surprise that religion is the primary reason people disapprove of cohabitation. Barna reports:

  • 41 percent of Christians think cohabitation is a bad idea.
  • 88 percent of non-religious people believe cohabitation is a good idea.

According to Barna, 57 percent of Americans have either currently or previously lived with a boyfriend/girlfriend. Again, those who are religious are less likely to shack up, but even here, a large number of Christians choose to “try the car before buying it.”

Barna concludes:

“America is well beyond the tipping point when it comes to cohabitation,” says Roxanne Stone, editor in chief at Barna Group. “Living together before marriage is no longer an exception, but instead has become an accepted and expected milestone of adulthood. Even a growing number of parents—nearly half of Gen-Xers and Boomers, and more than half of Millennials—want and expect their children to live with a significant other before getting married.

“The institution of marriage has undergone significant shifts in the last century,” continues Stone. “What was once seen as primarily an economic and procreational partnership, has become an exercise in finding your soulmate. Where once extended families lived within a handful of miles from each other, now the nuclear family often strikes out on its own. Such shifts placed a new emphasis on marriages as the core of family life and revealed fault lines in many marriages. These pressures, along with a number of other social phenomena—including women’s growing economic independence—led to unprecedented divorce rates in the second half of the twentieth century. As a result, many of today’s young people who are currently contemplating marriage, see it as a risky endeavor. They want to make sure they get it right and to avoid the heartbreak they witnessed in the lives of their parents or their friends’ parents. Living together has become a de facto way of testing the relationship before making a final commitment.


“However, religious leaders will be wise to notice that a growing number of their constituents—particularly in younger demographics—are accepting cohabitation as the norm,” concludes Stone. “As with premarital sex, the arguments against cohabitation will seem increasingly antiquated as the general culture accepts and promotes it. When everyone in their circles and everyone on television is living together, young people will begin to see it as benign. Religious leaders will need to promote the countercultural trend by celebrating the reasons to wait—rather than trying to find evidence for why it’s wrong (because such tangible, measurable evidence may not exist).

I suspect that most readers of this blog are not surprised by Barna’s findings. Boomers, Gen-exers, and Millennials alike have endured three generations of religious and political moralizing, all the while watching those screaming against “sin” do the very things they so strenuously oppose. Their message of do as we say not as we do now falls on deaf ears. Perhaps it is time for 2016 rewrite of God’s “timeless” moral code, one that reflects that women now have the freedom to use birth control and lustily fuck whomever, wherever, and however. Women are no longer subservient to the sexual whims of men. Sexual slavery, once the gospel of American Christianity, no longer plays well in Peoria. And this, dear readers, is the real problem, at least in the minds of conservative, Evangelical, and Fundamentalist clergy and political leaders. Women no longer need men or marriage to find fulfillment, and this scares the hell out of preachers and conservative politicians. As Barna admits, we are now well past the tipping point when it comes to cohabitation. Time will tell if Christian moralizers will finally admit this fact and choose to focus on matters of faith instead of what goes on behind closed bedroom doors.


  1. Avatar

    …two-thirds of Americans believe it is okay for couples to live together without the benefit of marriage…

    Well, two things: The term ‘benefit’ of marriage is kinda loaded. What benefits exactly are you inferring that are not part of any congugal mating? One cannot easily avoid the ‘benefits’ of being with someone. There’s the shared debt, the dishes, the promise of increasingly infrequent sex, all that stuff just comes naturally 😉
    Second, in Canada, between 2006 and 2011, the number of common-law couples rose 13.9%, more than four times the 3.1% increase for married couples. Also, our PM justed marched in the gay pride parade in Toronto, the first ever walk the talk support from a PM!
    Match that, Trumped ones!

  2. Avatar

    Not only do I think that pre-marital, or indeed intended non-marital, cohabitation not harmful, I believe it is positively beneficial. Most people, me included, cohabited prior to marriage and did all the naughty bits. It’s called having fun whilst at the same time gauging to see if it’s likely to work because, quite frankly, the rest of your life is a long time to be miserable.

    I think I’d also go along with Brian in saying that the benefits of marriage now are much less than perhaps once they were. I’m married only because it’s the ‘cultural norm’.

  3. Avatar
    Karen the rock whisperer

    In my perhaps-not-so-humble opinion, marriage is a legal contract. It confers rights and responsibilities on the two parties involved. It’s an uber-important legal contract, with all sorts of implications for the future of those parties. I’m married. I can rest easy, assured that my husband’s various financial instruments will come to me if he dies, and that I will have the final say in what happens to him if he is hospitalized and unable to speak for himself… and I can also rest easy assured that he, someone I trust very much, has the same power where I am concerned. This is uber-plus-good.

    It is nobody’s business but ours who we have sex with. We happen to be a boringly (to the outside world) monogamous couple. What if we were poly? Nobody’s business but ours. What if we had an open marriage? Nobody’s business but ours. What if one of us was having an affair? Nobody’s business but ours. What if one of us decided to break it up, and we get divorced? Nobody’s business but ours, and of course the state’s (but only as it concerns our legal marital status). What if we never bothered to get married? Nobody’s business but ours, though I would forgive close friends who might counsel marriage for the reasons in my first paragraph. What if we weren’t married and had children? As long as we make arrangements to both support them financially, and give them the best childhood we could, again it’s nobody’s business. What if Husband Mike were actually Wife Michaela? Again, nobody’s business.

    To all those people out there who want to stuff their noses in other people’s relationships, I say, GET A LIFE!!!

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