‘Living in sin’ now standard practice

NZPA 11 June 2008

People shacking up together in “non-marital cohabitation” have become a dominant part of the cultural landscape in New Zealand and some other Western nations, according to a global study published in the United States. The National Marriage Project study, spearheaded by the Rutgers the state university of New Jersey, said New Zealand had made the biggest jump among the 12 nations it surveyed in terms of “cohabitors” as a percentage of all couples, rising from 14.9 percent in 1996 to 23.7 percent in 2006. “There have been sharp percentage increases between the mid-1990s and the mid-2000s in the number of couples that are cohabiting,” the study reported on the university’s website said. These increases included rises ranging from 23 percent in Italy, 26 percent in France, 37 percent in German, 48 percent in Australia, “to a surprising 59.1 percent in New Zealand”.

Across the 13 nations, marriages per 1000 unmarried women had decreased over time, with New Zealand slumping the most, by 41 percent from 42.7 in 1991 to 24.8 in 2006. The USA fell by 19.9 percent from 1995 to 2005, down to 40.7 per 1000, but marriages in Australia declined by only 4.3 percent to 32 per 1000 unmarried women over 15. University of Texas-Austin, sociologist Kelly Raley, told USA Today newspaper: “We often think of cohabitation as a phenomenon of young adulthood before people start having kids, but … as marriage is being delayed to later and later ages, more children are born before marriage, and many of the couples are cohabiting before the birth.” She suggested living together was not a marriage alternative, but an option to address issues of economic or relationship uncertainty. Children from such relationships often had emotional problems, or were vulnerable to alcoholism and drug abuse, but Prof Raley said researchers could not say if these negative outcomes were due to the cohabitation or to the economic uncertainty or even the relationship uncertainty.