Do you know any research/survey results comparing how happy do people feel in marriage (after a few years) comparing marriages who lived together before marrying and living separately?

There are many studies into comparing divorce rate among spouses living or not living together before marrying, but I think it has a serious flaw - religious views can make couples still live together in marriage even though they feel unhappy. I think feeling happiness could be more interesting statistic.

Is premarital cohabitation associated with later marital satisfaction?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (1) Happiness is a difficult construct. (2) If the studies have been well designed, the influence of religiousness should have been excluded from the results, so divorce rates are a good indicator regardless of religiosity. (3) Religions may prevent unmarried cohabitation, again causing a bias. (Ideally you match couples with similar values regarding cohabitation and divorce.) $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Dec 18, 2013 at 12:47
  • $\begingroup$ (1) Just simple question, like 'do you feel happy and satisfied in your relationship, rate 1-10, not study into 'what happiness is' (2) How can you exclude religiosity from divorce rate, if religion prohibits it? $\endgroup$ Dec 18, 2013 at 16:41
  • $\begingroup$ (1) You cannot simply ask people how happy they are. You must define this construct, otherwise you'll not be sure what they mean by it. Do they mean contentment? Moments of intense bliss? The absence of sadness? All of these and more have been called happiness. This is a science, we do not assume. And in your question you mix up happiness and satisfaction, but a person can be both happy and unsatisfied. (2) By testing only religious or only non-religious people, by matching religiousity in the experimental and control group, or by partialing out religiousity in regression analysis. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Dec 19, 2013 at 12:51
  • $\begingroup$ The reason why people study divorce rates is that this is an objective measure. There is complete agreement about what to call a divorce. The same goes for marriage. Of course people often don't marry at all when they form a romantic relationship, or a married couple might break up without getting divorced, or they might stay together unhappily etc. But divorces can be counted. Every researcher wil find the same number. But however you attempt to measure happiness, it will always be unclear if what you measured was actually happiness or something else. $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Dec 19, 2013 at 12:58

1 Answer 1


A study reported, in the 80's, that unmarried cohabitation prior to marriage was associated with "significantly" lower marital satisfaction, but did not report an effect size. They also reported that the duration of unmarried cohabitation was unrelated to marital satisfaction(DeMaris and Leslie, 1984). A later study by the same lead author from the 90's reported that unmarried cohabitation predicted later divorce after controlling for time in union (DeMaris and Rao, 1992), which I include because time in union could be a confounding factor and I could not find direct evidence.

Wydick (2007) gave a game theoretic account of why unmarried cohabitation may lead to relatively decreased marital satisfaction which I am not qualified to evaluate, but the paper cites a number of empirical studies that support DeMaris' older thesis, so this paper may also be of some interest.

Not to speculate, but this is subjectively surprising to me. When I began the literature search, I was confident the idea was nonsense, and yet here we are.


  • DeMaris, A., & Leslie, G. R. (1984). Cohabitation with the future spouse: Its influence upon marital satisfaction and communication. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 77-84.
  • DeMaris, A., & Rao, K. V. (1992). Premarital cohabitation and subsequent marital stability in the United States: A reassessment. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 178-190.
  • Wydick, B. (2007). Grandma was right: Why cohabitation undermines relational satisfaction, but is increasing anyway. Kyklos, 60(4), 617-645.

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