New CDC data reveals which Americans are shacking up together

Moving in with someone is a choice some of us make for the adventure of love or for the convenience of splitting a rent check. Now, new data from U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has given us a fuller look into which couples are cohabitating together and why.

Portrait of a cohabitating couple today

Looking at a nationally representative group of around 6,700 men and 8,300 women between the ages of 18 and 44, the CDC found that couples who shack up together have certain traits in common. In general, they are less educated and poorer. Cohabiters have lower household incomes than married persons. They are more sexually active earlier in life and are more likely to have had an unintended pregnancy.

The income and education disparity may be because cohabitation is a transition phase for some couples. You may live with your significant other so that you can get more educated and finish your degree, or so you have more breathing room to pay off those debts.

One psychologist theorizes that the lower combined household income may be because cohabiters keep their lives and finances more separate from their partner than married people do.

“When people are married, they integrate their lives and come up with shared goals and shared views,” health psychologist Jessy Warner-Cohen said about the finding. Meanwhile for cohabiters, “it’s more, ‘How do we split these responsibilities?'”

Pre-marriage cohabitating more common

In previous generations, living together before marriage was a taboo, but now it’s becoming increasingly common. Seventeen percent of women and 15% of men overall were cohabiters in the CDC study, and that number is on the rise. Since 2007, the number of cohabitating couples has jumped by 29% to 18 million American adults, the Pew Research Center found.

What’s causing the rise in cohabitation and the decline of marriage? It may be too expensive a commitment. A previous Pew Research Center study found that we consider marriage a symbol of financial security. When your job and finances are unstable, you are less likely to put a ring on it. “Those in this less-advantaged group are as likely as others to want to marry, but they place a higher premium on economic security as a condition for marriage. This is a bar that many may not meet,” the researchers found.