Marrieds are happier than those who cohabit, but everyone would choose this over having a partner

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The share of U.S. adults ages 18-44 who have ever lived with someone  (59%) has now exceeded the share who have ever been married (50%), according to a new survey exploring marriage and cohabitation, recently released by Pew Research Center.

Yet, it’s good to be married, the survey found. Married adults were more gratified with a number of areas of their relationships, and have more trust in their partners than those who are simply cohabiting. Larger numbers of marrieds over those just living together say they are “very satisfied ” with the way household chores are divided between them and their partner (46% vs. 37%), how well their partner juggles work and personal life (44% vs. 35%), and how well they communicate with their partner (43% vs. 35%). Married couples are also happier with their approach to parenting vs. those living together (58% vs. 39%).

Married people are happier, more satisfied

Married couples also come out ahead when it comes to acting in their partner’s best interest, always being truthful, and being responsible with money.

Nikki Graf, the co-author of the report and a research associate at Pew Research Center, said that one interesting finding she noticed was that “as cohabitation is becoming increasingly common in the U.S., we found that most adults think it’s acceptable – even for couples who don’t plan to get married.”

Graf and her colleagues found that “about 70% of Americans say that they think cohabitation is acceptable, even if a couple doesn’t plan to get married.”

Still, married couples came out on top throughout the survey, even after controlling for demographic differences like age, gender, income, race, religious affiliation, and how much education they had attained. Married adults were simply more satisfied with more parts of the relationships, as well as the way they conducted their day-to-day life and the trust they had in their partners than those that cohabited.

Graf agreed: “We found this link between marriage and higher levels of relationship satisfaction and trust, which remained even after controlling for these demographic differences,” she said.

People cohabit for a myriad of reasons

It may not be completely fair to do an apples-to-apples comparison of marrieds versus cohabitors. Part of that might be due to the fact that couples who are living together are still working on how they define their relationship, and it varies wildly.

“It’s true that there’s a lot of variation among cohabiting couples in how they see this relationship whether they see it as a step toward marriage. Cohabiting adults who were not engaged before they moved in, among college grads, they were more likely to see it as a step towards marriage than people with some college experience or high school education or less.”

In other words, it’s complicated. Among cohabitors who were not engaged when they moved in with their partner, 44% said they saw living together as a step towards marriage. Others (4 in 10) who are living together but not engage say they do want to get married someday, but something (usually money) is holding them back. And a very practical share decided to shack up together because of finances (38%) and convenience (37%).

About half U.S. adults (48%) say that couples who live together before marriage have a better chance of a successful marriage than those who don’t – but it’s mostly younger people who believe that.. But as age groups get older, they are less likely to put so much weight on living with each other on the success of a marriage. About six in 10 adults ages 18 to 29 believe this, compared with just about half of those ages 30 to 49, and about 40% of those 50 and older.

“The age differences on that question are very interesting,” said Graf. “Rightly, younger adults are more likely to see cohabitation as a path to a successful marriage; they’re far more likely to say that couples who live together before marriage have a better chance of having a successful marriage… I think it’s definitely a generational thing, I guess.

Here’s the shocker: you don’t need marriage, just a great career

All this is well and good – unless you don’t need marriage, partner, or romance at all. As it turns out, the U.S. isn’t very romantic as a country, with respondents saying that being married is integral for only 16% of men or 17% of women.

What is, though? A job or career they enjoy is all-important, at 57% for a man and 46% for a woman.

“So, today Americans don’t necessarily link marriage with living a fulfilling life,” Graf explained. “So, we found that more individuals listed having a good job or career or having a lot of money, or being in a committed relationship as important as essential for living a fulfilling life, than marriage.”