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Religious Couples Who Marry Young, Do Not Cohabitate Are Less Likely To Divorce, Research Finds

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According to new research, couples of faith who pursue marrying young without living together first have the lowest odds of divorce. These results challenge the conventional wisdom that young adults should be career-oriented during their 20s and wait until they’re more mature to tie the knot.

In a post titled “The Surprising Case for Marrying Young,” sociology professor W. Bradford Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project, reveals that cohabiting couples are 15% more likely to get divorced than couples who don’t live together before marriage.

Wilcox, who conducted the research with Lyman Stone for the Institute for Family Studies, says, “Saving cohabitation for marriage, and endowing your relationship with sacred significance, seems to maximize your odds of being stably and happily married.” He emphasizes the importance of “shared faith,” which “is linked to more sexual fidelity, greater commitment, and higher relationship quality.”

With Relationships, More Experience Isn’t Better

Wilcox points to the example of Joey and Samantha, a Catholic couple who met in New York City and married at age 24. That surprised their peers, who are enjoying independence and focusing on careers. But the pair, who now live in Dallas, say sharing a faith and not living together first has made marriage “so exciting” and “that much sweeter.”

“The religious guys are more long-term guys,” says Samantha, “They’re going to share my morals and my values.” Meanwhile, other potential dates are just “looking to have a good time.”

If you cohabitate first, adds Samantha, you “always see leaving as an option.” And that mindset remains once you’re married. Those partners “always can see that there’s a door to leave,” she says, “whereas since we didn’t [live with anyone beforehand, leaving is] just not an option we would think of.”

Wilcox also cites psychologist Galena Rhodes, who says, “We generally think that having more experience is better…but what we find for relationships is just the opposite.” Instead, having more cohabitation partners sets you up for making comparisons that could undermine your eventual marriage.

Other Research Also Supports Marrying Young

Another project, the “State of Our Unions 2022” report, compares “cornerstone” marriages (between people ages 20 to 24) and “capstone” marriages (between people older than 25). Contrary to popular belief, researchers found that later capstone marriages aren’t necessarily more stable and may even lead to lower-quality relationships.

“Society ought to consider that cornerstone marriages can be just as nurturing, stable, and satisfying as capstone marriages—if not more so for many couples,” says primary author Alan Hawkins. Marrying as teens remains “a significant risk factor,” he points out, but beyond that, “age is not the strong indicator of success in marriage that many believe it to be.”