While the last few years have seen much publicity about the differences between millennials and older generations, there's a trend among 20- and early 30-somethings that hasn't received much attention: Millennials are divorcing at a lower rate than their parents.
A changing institution
The divorce rate in the US has been dropping since the 1990s. Furthermore, millennials are waiting longer to tie the knot. Sociologists believe these trends could be connected.
One explanation for why couples are marrying later is that they're more likely than generations past to cohabit before walking down the aisle. Researchers found that, among women who married between 1965 and 1974, 11 percent moved in with their significant other first. Among those who married between 2005 and 2009, that figure jumped to 66 percent, reflecting a considerable shift in societal norms.
A new path toward marriage
Researchers speculate that cohabitation may serve as a "trial union." Couples can use this time to determine whether they are compatible enough for a long-term commitment. If not, they can break up before getting into a marriage that's likely to end in divorce.
The Journal of Marriage and Family reports that living together is the new "pathway toward marriage." The practice has become so prevalent that engaged couples tend to request cash instead of household items as wedding gifts. Since they've usually been on their own for a while, their households are already established. Unlike older generations, millennials are less likely to be "just starting out."
New research contradicts old theories
It used to be widely-held that living together before marriage was a strong predictor of divorce. Commenting on the results of a 2014 study, sociologist Arielle Kuperberg observed that in the past, couples who moved in together at younger ages were more likely to end up divorced later. Since millennials are postponing commitment, their lower divorce rate may be attributed to the age at which they marry, rather than their decision to cohabit.
Australian researchers reported that since the late 1980s, they've seen a complete reversal of any link between cohabitation and higher divorce rates.
It's likely that multiple factors are contributing to the declining divorce rate. Ultimately, it's impossible to conclude that cohabitation is the primary explanation for long-term marriage stability. What we can conclude, however, is that when it comes to reducing the risk of separation, millennials may be on to something.