According to new Australian research, men and women who start living together while still in the early stages of their relationship risk ending up single.
Ruth Weston, the principal research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said that young people think the living together before marriage is "a fun thing to do", and believe in taking "each day as it comes". However, she warns that this often results in hanging on for years in an unsuitable relationship.
As a result when they eventually break off, it might take them a long time to find a new partner. And, as far as women are concerned, it might also mean that they may have lost their chance of having children. "In the old days people might go 'steady' but there was still opportunity to meet others. Now once you are living with someone you are cheating if you see someone else. When you cohabit it adds a sense of commitment to a relationship that might be going nowhere," Weston said.
The researchers analysed 2006 census data, which revealed that 35 per cent of women, and 41 percent of men aged 30 to 34, are single. Among women aged 35-39, it is 31 per cent and for men 35 per cent. "This is a lot of people in their mid- and late 30s without a partner, although some would have once had a partner," Weston said.
Analysis wherein it was found that marriage rates have been falling for decades while the cohabitation rate has risen for all age groups is published in Family Relationships Quarterly.
Weston said that since the last census, the divorce rate appears to have reached a plateau, or even fallen and living together has become more unstable. More people were splitting before they married. She also said that the fragility of live-in relationships had contributed to a 15-year decline in partnering rates - the proportion of men and women in there 30s who had neither a spouse nor live-in partner. The fall in partnering rates was precipitous between 1996 and 2001 and had since slowed down but not reversed. "The rate is still high in relation to what we know young people want," Weston said.
"They enter prematurely but can linger on and waste their time," she said.
The results of the analysis reveals that for the first time that almost as many men in their late 20s who have a partner are living with them rather than being married to them. 46 per cent of the partnered men aged 25-29 were cohabitors, up from 38 per cent in 2001. For partnered men in there early 20s, about 75 per cent were cohabitors. Another researcher, Professor Janeen Baxter, of the University of Queensland, has shown that cohabitors may have at least one advantage over married couples - men do more housework than women. She said there was "more equality in cohabiting relationships.