Live-in couples may end up single forever

Sydney Morning Herald 1 October 2007
Men and women who start to live together too early in their relationship risk wasting years and ending up single, an Australian family researcher says. Ruth Weston, the principal research fellow at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, said many young people thought moving in together was “a fun thing to do”. They believed they would take “each day as it comes”, Ms Weston said. But often they lingered for years in an unsuitable relationship. When they eventually split, it might take them a long time to find a new partner, and for the woman, the chance of having children might be lost.”In the old days people might go ‘steady’ but there was still opportunity to meet others,” she said. “Now once you are living with someone you are cheating if you see someone else. When you cohabit it adds a sense of commitment to a relationship that might be going nowhere.”Ms Weston and Lixia Qu have published a new analysis of 2006 census data that shows 35 per cent of women aged 30 to 34 are single – neither married nor living with a partner. For men the proportion is 41 per cent. Among women aged 35-39, it is 31 per cent and for men 35 per cent. “This is a lot of people in their mid- and late 30s without a partner,” Ms Weston said, “although some would have once had a partner.” Marriage rates have been falling for decades while the cohabitation rate has risen for all age groups, the analysis, published in Family Relationships Quarterly, shows.But while the divorce rate appears to have reached a plateau since the last census, or even fallen, living together has become more unstable, Ms Weston said. More people were breaking up before they married. The fragility of live-in relationships had contributed to a 15-year decline in partnering rates – the proportion of men and women in their 30s who had neither a spouse nor live-in partner, she said. The drop in partnering rates was precipitous between 1996 and 2001 and had since slowed down but not reversed.