It has been long understood that marriage provided more emotional health benefits than cohabiting or dating. But that’s showing signs of shifting.
Young people are choosing to live with their significant others before, or instead of, getting hitched. For “emerging adults,” or those in their 20s, cohabitation may offer the same emotional health benefits as marriage, according to a recent study published by the Journal of Family Psychology.
Using data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, Sara E. Mernitz and Claire Kamp Dush from Ohio State University looked at what happens when young people cohabitate, transition into marriage or progress from a first to second cohabitation — and how men and women experience these changes differently.
Although there’s a lot of research that examines marriage and health, more broadly, Mernitz said in a phone interview, “we now have more advanced statistical methods that allow us to look at the change as an individual experiences this transition from cohabitation to marriage.”
For some of the people surveyed, living with their partner proved just as beneficial as marriage. “Past studies that compared those that are married and those that are cohabitating always found this sort of marriage benefit,” Mernitz said. “But even when we look at individuals who transition from a current cohabitation into marriage, that transition into marriage didn’t really provide any additional emotional health benefits and we kind of thought it would.”
The most surprising result to Mernitz was that women seem to benefit from cohabitation more than men do. The researchers think it might have something to do with the fact that women and men view living together differently.
Some past research, for example, “has really shown that men are more likely to view cohabitation as a trial run or testing period for marriage and may not be taking it as seriously as women, or at least the women in our study,” Mernitz said.
Although she did add that past research has shown that women don’t like to cohabit for long if marriage isn’t on the horizon.
The older we get, the more important romantic relationships can be for our emotional health. In the study, emotional health was measured by looking at depressive or anxiety symptoms, but not diagnoses of depression. For example, some of the questions were “Have you felt downhearted or blue?” or “Have you felt calm and peaceful?” They found that for those who went from being single to living with a significant other or those who got married without living together first, both setups greatly reduced emotional stress.
The researchers also found that people who moved in with new partners received greater emotional benefits than they’d found in their previous relationships. That could be because people are more selective when entering a second cohabitation.
Basically, everything Beyoncé ever taught you about recovering from a split — “I could have another you in a minute,” or her entire “Survivor” verse — is probably true.