A major new study by the Pew folks has been looking at changes in marriage and cohabitation in the US. The major findings:
“The share of U.S. adults who are currently married has declined modestly in recent decades, from 58% in 1995 to 53% today. Over the same period, the share of adults who are living with an unmarried partner has risen from 3% to 7%. While the share who are currently cohabiting remains far smaller than the share who are married, the share of adults ages 18 to 44 who have ever lived with an unmarried partner (59%) has surpassed the share who has ever been married (50%)”
These attitudes have shifted immensely, even just in my lifetime. By the time my first wife and I were getting seriously involved in the late 1960s in London, it was — with more or less reluctance — generally accepted in our social circle that those engaged would probably have sex with each other before marriage. That was something, I guess, that could be managed between families. However, the notion that my girlfriend and I would actually take up residence and live together publicly before we married was still subject to enormous pressure from the wider society and neither we, nor most of our friends, took that step.
In England, at least, that would have put us right on the cusp of that attitudinal change because I recall there was far less pressure NOT to cohabit by the early-mid 1970s when I was divorced and dating again.