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Moving In: Teen Views on Cohabitation

by Josephine Mazzuca, PhD
Senior Staff Writer, Toronto Bureau

Are today's teens open to couples living together before they get married? The 2003 Gallup Youth Survey* indicates that the answer is yes. The poll finds 7 in 10 teens saying they approve of couples living together before they get married, while 29% disapprove.

These numbers are not surprising, given the prevalence of unmarried couples living together in America today. According to the last U.S. census, 3.8 million unmarried couples were reportedly cohabitating. This figure represents 3.7% of all households in the United States, and the U.S. Census Bureau suspects this figure may actually underrepresent the number of unmarried couples who live together because only "householders" and their partners are tabulated and people may be reluctant to classify themselves as cohabitating.

Despite teens' overwhelming acceptance of unmarried couples living together, there is some significant variance in opinion on the issue among different demographic groups. In particular, young people responded differently based on their level religious participation, their political party affiliation, and the geographic region in which they reside.


The idea that living together before marriage is "living in sin" appears more likely to resonate with teens who attend church regularly. Exactly half of teens who attend church regularly (50%) approve of living together before marriage, while approximately the same percentage disapproves (49%). In the case of teens who do not attend church regularly, a majority (85%) approves of couples living together before they are married, and only 15% disapproves.

Political Affiliation

Teens who say that they will vote Republican once they are old enough to vote are less likely than teens who will vote Democrat or independent to approve of couples living together. More than three-fourths of both Democratic teens (77%) and independent teens (75%) approve of couples living together before they are married; the same is true of only 56% of Republican teens.

Regional Differences

Teens living in the Western and Northeastern regions of the United States, the areas often considered to be the most socially liberal in the country, are more likely to approve of couples living together prior to marriage than are those in the traditionally more conservative South and Midwest. While only about a fifth of Northeastern and Western teens disapprove of unmarried couples living together, approximately a third of Midwesterners and almost 4 in 10 Southern teens disapprove of this living situation.

School Performance

Interestingly, students who define themselves as top academic performers are less likely to approve of couples living together than students who say that they are below-average performers. Fifty-nine percent of teens who say they are "near the top" of their class approve of unmarried couples living together, compared to 87% of those students who say they are performing "below average" in school.

Bottom Line

Today's young people have grown up in a world in which a variety of different family living arrangements have become common. Many teens may be living or have lived in "nontraditional" households. According to the 2000 census data, 41% of unmarried partner households include children under 18. In comparison, 46% of married couple households include children under 18. Given this reality, it is not surprising that a majority of teens approve of couples living together prior to marriage, and it is not improbable that they themselves may become part of this growing trend in the future.

*The Gallup Youth Survey is conducted via an Internet methodology provided by Knowledge Networks, using an online research panel that is designed to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The current questionnaire was completed by 1,200 respondents, aged 13 to 17, between Jan. 23-Feb. 10, 2003. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3%. For a complete description of the sampling and weighting procedures used to conduct the survey, click here.


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