Relationship Research Findings for Conscious Dating

by David Steele

In July 2005, the National Marriage Project of Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, released their annual “State of Our Unions” report for 2005. You will find some key findings from this report below. Here is what I would like you to know:

  • The marriage rate continues to decline
  • The cohabitation rate continues to increase, with a higher failure rate than marriage
  • The divorce rate continues to be around 50 percent, though has declined a bit, most likely due to fewer marriages and more cohabitation
  • Couples are waiting longer to get married
  • Divorced people are slightly less likely to re-marry
  • Lifelong singlehood has increased a bit
  • Over 50 percent of couples now live together before getting married
  • Couples living together without plans for marriage is increasing
  • 40 percent of all children will live in a cohabiting household
  • 28 percent of all children live in single parent families
  • An increasing percentage of teenagers state that they want to get married and that having a good marriage and family is important to them

These trends are disturbing because the problems are getting worse, not better. For example, more and more people cohabitate, which has a higher failure rate than marriage, and higher negative impact on children and families. Yet, most want a successful life partnership, and think cohabitation is a necessary first step.

There is a widening gulf between:

– what people want (a successful committed relationship)…

– what they do (cohabitate)…

– and the results they get (relationship failure)

Here are some key findings on Marriage, Divorce, Cohabitation, Children, and Teen Attitudes:

“Americans have become less likely to marry. Most people now live together before they marry for the first time.”
50 percent decline, from 1970 to 2004, in the annual number of marriages per 1,000 unmarried adult women
Some of this decline—it is not clear just how much—results from the delaying of first marriages until older ages
Other factors accounting for the decline are the growth of unmarried cohabitation and a small decrease in the tendency of divorced persons to remarry. The decline also reflects some increase in lifelong singlehood

“The American divorce rate today is nearly twice that of 1960, but has declined slightly since hitting the highest point in our history in the early 1980s. For the average couple marrying in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation remains between 40 and 50 percent.”

“The number of unmarried couples has increased dramatically over the past four decades, and the increase is continuing. Most younger Americans now spend some time living together outside of marriage, and unmarried cohabitation commonly precedes marriage. A growing percentage of cohabiting couple households, now over 40 percent, contain children.”

Between 1960 and 2004 the number of unmarried couples in America increased by nearly 1200 percent. Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared to virtually none 50 years ago. “The belief that living together before marriage is a useful way “to find out whether you really get along,” and thus avoid a bad marriage and an eventual divorce, is now widespread among young people. But the available data on the effects of cohabitation fail to confirm this belief. In fact, a substantial body of evidence indicates that those who live together before marriage are more likely to break up after marriage.”
“The trend toward single-parent families is probably the most important of the recent family trends that have affected children and adolescents. This is because the children in such families have negative life outcomes at two to three times the rate of children in married, two-parent families. Children who grow up with cohabiting couples tend to have worse life outcomes compared to those growing up with married couples. Prominent reasons are that cohabiting couples have a much higher breakup rate than married couples, a lower level of household income, and a higher level of child abuse and domestic violence.”

– 28 percent of all children live in single-parent families, 9 percent in 1960

– 40 percent of all children are expected to spend some time in a cohabiting household during their growing up years

– For unmarried couples in the 25 to 34 age group the percentage with children is higher still, approaching half of all such house­holds

– Almost one half of stepfamilies today consists of a biological parent and unrelated cohabiting partner

“The desire of teenagers of both sexes for “a good marriage and family life” has increased slightly over the past few decades.”

– 82 percent of girls and 70 percent of boys state that having a good marriage and family life was “extremely important” to them (a slight increase)

– 83 percent of girls and 78 percent of boys state that they expect to marry (a moderate increase)


Reprinted with permission of David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead from /The State of Our Unions: The Social Health of Marriage in America, 2005/ (The National Marriage Project at Rutgers University, 2005) National Marriage Project: Link to report:
©2005 by Relationship Coaching Institute /