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POSSLQs lasting longer in the United States

POSSLQs lasting longer in the United States

Amid the arguments for marriage equality there lies a trend among POSSLQs, or 'People of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters. POSSLQ is a term that was coined by the United States Census Bureau in the 1970s in an effort to better gauge the number of Americans who were cohabiting outside the bonds of legal marriage.

According to a report filed by Religion News Service, couples living together while unmarried are staying together longer, and more of them are choosing to have children.

This information is according to new data supplied by the Federal Government, and is indicative of how unmarried couples are transforming the family structure.

The story cites a report issued by the National Center for Health Studies, which states that almost half of women aged between 15 and 44 state their 'first union' was living with their mate as an unmarried couple. The date was compiled from interviews with 12,279 women in that age bracket between 2006 and 2010.

Casey Copen, a Demographer and lead author of the study, stated,

“Instead of marriage, people are moving into cohabitation as a first union. It’s kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now.”

Copen says the report is different from other reviews of cohabiting couples in that analyzes the relationship, not just the count. She says it is the first report to offer details on the length of time couples spend together.

The findings include:


  • As a first union, 48 percent of women cohabited with their male partner, up from 43 percent in 2002 and 34 percent in 1995.
  • 23 percent of first unions were marriages, down from 30 percent in 2002 and 39 percent in 1995. The percentage of women who cohabited as a first union increased for all races and ethnic groups, except Asian women. Among Hispanics, the percentage increased 57 percent; for whites, 43 percent; for blacks, 39 percent.
  • 22 months is the median duration of first cohabitation, up from 20 months in 2002 and 13 months in 1995.
  • One in five women (19 percent) became pregnant and gave birth in the first year of a first premarital cohabitation.
  • Within three years of cohabiting, 40 percent of women had transitioned to marriage; 32 percent remained living together; 27 percent had broken up.

Andrew Cherlin, a Sociologist with Johns Hopkins University, stated,

“The United States has long had the shortest cohabiting relationships of any wealthy nation and now these relationships are lengthening.”

The report from Religion News Service also cites the role education plays, stating that it plays a major role in these relationships. Seventy percent of women in cohabitation relationships did not have a high school diploma, with 47% having a Bachelor’s degree or higher.

Other statistics include women with a higher education, aged between 22 and 44 years old are more likely to transition their relationships to marriage within a few years.

Cherlin further commented,

“What we’re seeing here is the emergence of children within cohabiting unions among the working class and the poor. They have high standards for marriage and they don’t think they can meet them for now, but increasingly, it’s not stopping them from having a child. Having children within cohabiting unions is much more common among everybody but the college educated.

“Cohabitation is a common part of family formation in the United States, and serves both as a step toward marriage and as an alternative to marriage.”

Other commentary came from Mark Mather, who works as a Demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, which is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.

Mather agreed that education is plays a strong role in determining whether cohabiting couples transition to marriage or fizzles out after a relatively short time.

Mather stated,

“Those with less education are much more likely to break up. They may enter a second or third cohabiting union. There tends to be a lot more instability.”

For more information, relevant links and commentary, please read the whole story at Religion News Service.

About Al Stefanelli

Al is a retired author, writer and journalist. His books include "Free Thoughts - A Collection Of Essays By An American Atheist" and "A Voice Of Reason In An Unreasonable World - The Rise Of Atheism On Planet Earth." Al began writing in 1985, starting with the New York Times. In 1993 he joined a McClatchy newspaper, writing a weekly column for ten years. His writing continues to be widely distributed on the Internet and in print. He also produced and hosted a weekly syndicated radio broadcast from 1995 to 1998, and his work won a North Carolina Journalism award in 1998. Al is the former Georgia State Director for American Atheists, Inc., and served on the Board of Directors for "The Clergy Project." He is also a former Southern Baptist Pastor, having served two churches and as pulpit supply for three counties. Currently, he writes part time for The God Discussion, co-hosts the Internet radio programs, "The God Discussion Show" and "Reap Sow Radio." Al lives in the Atlanta suburb of Peachtree City, GA.
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