First Advisor

Robert Liebman

Term of Graduation


Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (M.S.) in Sociology






Marriage, Unmarried couples, Married people, Satisfaction, Domestic relations



Physical Description

1 online resource (80 pages)


Most research on cohabitation has focused on the subsequent marital instability of cohabitors. However, these findings are inconsistent and. considering the great number of stable unhappy marriages, marital stability is not an accurate measure of relationship success.

The purpose of this research is to compare the relationship satisfaction reported by married couples who cohabited prior to their marriage with the satisfaction of married couples who did not cohabit premaritally. This research uses respondents' self-reported relationship satisfaction as a measure of relationship success.

General Social Survey data co11ected in 1988 and 1994 were analyzed to determine the relationship between premarital cohabitation and one's marital and life satisfaction. The sample was limited to white couples who were in first marriages of seven years duration or less. Analysis of variance, factor analysis and crosstabulations were used to test two hypotheses: that cohabitors will report greater marital happiness, and that attitudes toward marriage will differ by cohabitation history.

Among couples married for seven or fewer years, there were few differences between respondents who had cohabited before marriage and those who did not. There was no difference in reports of marital happiness. However, noncohabitors reported higher levels of general happiness, which is puzzling. When examining domains of life satisfaction, cohabitors reported having much greater satisfaction with hobbies and nonworking activities than did noncohabitors. Of seventeen items measuring attitudes tO\vard marriage and divorce, only one differed by cohabitation status. Cohabitors were much more likely to agree that personal freedom was more important than the companionship of marriage.

These findings provide support for previous research which indicates that cohabitors have different feelings about marriage than do noncohabitors, but are not necessarily less committed. Additional research is recommended to learn more about the processes that link cohabitation and marriage as stages in the development of intimate relationships.


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