Living together not just for the young anymore

Cohabitation is much than diverse than decade ago, new data show

Americans who choose to cohabit are no longer just young couples testing the waters before heading to the altar, an analysis of new Census data reveals.

In fact, cohabitation is much more diverse: Nearly 30 percent are divorced, nearly half are 35 and older and growing numbers are parents with children at home, according to the analysis conducted by the nonprofit Population Reference Bureau for USA Today.

As of March, when Census did a supplemental survey counting current cohabiters, 15.3 million unmarried heterosexual people were in live-in relationships 6.5 percent of all U.S. adults 18 and older. The survey did not count those who had cohabited in the past but are now married or are living alone or with family or friends.

Cohabiters are “increasingly more diverse than a decade ago,” says sociologist Andrew Cherlin of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “The idea that young adults are dominant is really wrong. There is no stereotypical cohabiting couple anymore. The middle-class, childless, cohabiting couple represents a very small proportion of all cohabiting Americans.”

The data will be part of a Census report on families and living arrangements scheduled for release in November. Among highlights:

41 percent of cohabiting couples have kids living with them.

47 percent are 35 and older, and 13 percent are 55 and older.

21 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher, 31 percent have some college, 35 percent have a high school diploma and 13 percent did not graduate from high school.

“People are living together for different reasons. It depends where you are in your life,” says demographer Mark Mather of the Population Reference Bureau.

For the young, cohabitation is a “prelude to marriage,” while for older adults, it’s a “long-term alternative to marriage,” says sociologist Susan Brown, co-director of the National Center for Family & Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. Research she co-authored was published in August in the Journal of Marriage and Family.

“There has been this doubling of the proportion of older adults who are living in cohabiting relationships,” she says. “It’s grown for late middle-age and the oldest adults – a clear upward trend for both of these groups, and no signs this is going to slow down.”

Cleone Reed, 66, of Bandon, Ore., was among them – for a while, at least. She dated Bob Reed, 71, for four years, then they lived together for four years before they married in 2008.

“I’m no longer ‘Grandpa’s girlfriend.’ I hated that,” she says.

© 2012 USA TODAY. All rights reserved.

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