According to USA Today, the new statistics, which were based on in-person interviews with more than 12,000 women, reveal that almost half of women ages 15-44 are choosing cohabitation as a "first union" with less than a one-quarter opting for marriage first.
"Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union," says demographer Casey Copen, the report's lead author. "It's kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now."
The study also found that the median duration of first cohabitation is now 22 months, up from just 20 months in 2002 and 13 months in 1995.
While 40 percent of women transitioned to marriage within three years of cohabiting, 59 percent either remained in the live-in arrangement or broke up with their partner.
Education had an impact on all of these numbers. For instance, women without a high school diploma were much more likely to cohabit as a first union (70%) than women with a bachelor's degree or higher (47%). Women with a higher level of education were also more likely to marry their partner (53%) compared to those who did not graduate high school (30%).
"Those with less education are much more likely to break up," said Mark Maher, a demographer at the Population Reference Bureau, to USAToday. "They may enter a second or third cohabiting union. There tends to be a lot more instability."
Perhaps the most unfortunate statistic is the increasing number of women who are willing to have children inside these unstable unions with 19 percent of the respondents saying they became pregnant and gave birth in the first year of a first premarital cohabitation.
"What we're seeing here is the emergence of children within cohabiting unions among the working class and the poor," said sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University. "They have high standards for marriage and they don't think they can meet them for now, but increasingly, it's not stopping them from having a child. Having children within cohabiting unions is much more common among everybody but the college educated."
Among women without a high school diploma, 33 percent had children outside of marriage compared to just five percent of the college educated.
The impending birth of a child has also become less of a reason for couples to marry with only 19 percent of the women saying a pregnancy led to their marriage, compared to 32 percent in 1995.
The bottom line, according to the report, is that "Cohabitation is a common part of family formation in the United States, and serves both as a step toward marriage and as an alternative to marriage."
Numerous studies have found that couples who live together before marriage have higher rates of divorce and a poorer quality of marital relationship than those who do not.
Cohabitation is a violation of the law of God on several levels, particularly in the area of marriage and sexuality.
"Premarital sexual intercourse deprives the conjugal act of the deeper meaning that God created it to contain," explains the Bishops of Kansas in this pastoral letter.
"There is not a total giving of self in premarital sexual relations as there ought to be in the sexual act of a husband and wife. It is seriously morally wrong for two people to have sex if they are not married, because the sexual act expresses a total commitment which the couple does not yet have."
In John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio, we are taught that "the only 'place' in which this self-giving in its whole truth is made possible is marriage, the covenant of conjugal love freely and consciously chosen, whereby a man and woman accept the intimate community of life and love willed by God himself."
"Premarital sexual intercourse and cohabitation open the gift, so to speak, before it has been given," the bishops write.
"Waiting for one's wedding day in order to give the gift of conjugal love, on the other hand, creates a natural yearning which can help engender a greater sense of totality of the gift of self to the one person whom God has chosen from all eternity to share this gift. To give this gift, which is symbolized by the nuptial language of the body in sexual intercourse, in a context any less than the total commitment of spousal love is an affront to its inherent and God-given dignity."
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