In economic downturn, an uptick in couples living together before marriage

By Jeremy Olson
Wednesday, November 3, 2010; 6:34 PM

MINNEAPOLIS - Jessica Peltier and her boyfriend sure look like a married couple - they live together, drive their 3-year-old daughter to dance class at the YMCA and bicker over laundry or empty cans sitting around.

The only thing missing, it seems, is the marriage.

"We plan on getting married," Peltier said, "when money permits."

It's a common story growing more common in the economic downturn. New U.S. Census Bureau estimates show that the number of unmarried couples living together spiked nationally during the recent recession.

Demographers believe the increase is due to couples delaying marriage because of the cost, avoiding marriage altogether or moving in without a long-term plan because of short-term financial pressures.

While cohabitation has increased over 30 years, the uptick surprised experts. The Current Population Survey showed an increase nationally from 6.7 million unmarried couples living together in 2009 to 7.5 million couples in 2010. Census researcher Rose Kreider figured the 13 percent jump was a mistake.

"Usually when you see a big change like that," she said, "we've done something wrong."

Kreider verified the increase and found a likely explanation: Couples who recently moved in together were less likely to have jobs than couples who lived together more than a year.

Joblessness "might be one of the push factors getting these couples to say, 'Okay, do we really need two addresses? Maybe it's just time we moved in,' " she said.

The "living in sin" stigma is less than it was 30 years ago, when landlords denied apartments to unmarried couples, said Steven Ruggles, director of the Minnesota Population Center at the University of Minnesota.

But it hasn't disappeared.

After Jenifer Wical moved in with her boyfriend in Andover, she learned that her church wouldn't perform their wedding ceremony unless they first got legally married or moved apart. The middle-age couple instead hired a pastor to marry them at a Wisconsin vineyard. The savings from living together made it affordable.

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