An estimated 50% of all couples living together in heterosexual relationships today are nonmarried cohabitants. Most of these relationships are fairly short-term arrangements that end in either marriage or separation, whereas others may last for years (Macklin, 1988). In some instances, the cohabiting couple decides to forego a traditional marriage ceremony and become common-law partners by declaring themselves to be married. They combine their assets, file joint tax returns, and can only dissolve their common-law marriage by divorce or death. In states that recognize common-law marriages, the spouses can collect insurance, social security benefits, and community property after a stipulated time has expired. However, fraudulent claims resulting from common-law marriages have led many states to outlaw them (Marriage, 1993).
Cohabiting couples who eventually marry tend to hold traditional views concerning the roles of husband and wife, and in marriage they are quite similar to noncohabiting marital partners in terms of the degree of closeness, conflict, equality, and satisfaction experienced. Despite the belief that living together before marriage helps a couple to become better acquainted, premarital cohabitation does not necessarily make marriage better. In fact, there is some evidence to the contrary (Booth & Johnson, 1988). Because cohabitants tend to be less conventional, less religious, and of lower socioeconomic status than noncohabitants, they are more likely to become divorced (DeMaris & Rao, 1992).
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