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Are Couples That Live Together Before Marriage More Likely to Divorce?

Demographic factors and the importance of social support.

Key points

  • Interracial couples cohabitate at higher rates before marriage.
  • The stability and outcome of interracial cohabitations that have not transitioned into marriage are similar to those of same-race cohabitations.
  • Living with a partner prior to marriage stabilizes interracial marriages in ways that it does not stabilize same-race marriages.

Over the past few decades, the United States has experienced an unprecedented rise in the number and share of interracial unions. Today, one-in-six new marriages involve partners of a different race or ethnicity. Attitudes towards interracial unions have also become much more favorable during this time.

Although people have become more accepting of interracial unions, interracial couples, especially White-Black interracial couples, continue to report experiencing family opposition, ostracism from kin, and discrimination from neighbors. Opposition against interracial unions tends to be stronger for couples in intermarriages than in interracial cohabitation.

The added challenges associated with intermarriage may mean that cohabitation serves a different function for interracial couples than for same-race couples. Some interracial couples may cohabitate at higher rates than same-race couples so that they can test whether the strength of their bond is strong enough to withstand family opposition. For other interracial couples, cohabitation may serve as "substitute marriages," where the couple can enjoy the benefits of married life without having to deal with the challenges associated with intermarriage.

Does cohabitation serve a different role for interracial couples than for same-race couples?

To address this question, a new study published in Demographic Research in May 2022, examined the stability and outcome of interracial cohabitations before and after transitions into marriage. This study used data from the 2002 and 2006-2019 National Survey of Family Growth and found that interracial cohabitations that have not transitioned into marriage serve a role similar to those of same-race cohabitations. Specifically, the stability and outcome of White-Black cohabitations are similar to that of same-race Black cohabitations. The stability and outcome of White-Hispanic cohabitations fall in between those of same-race White and same-race Hispanic cohabitations.

The results are somewhat different for interracial cohabitations that end up in a marriage. For these interracial couples, living with a partner before marriage helps reduce the risk of divorce or separation for interracial couples in ways that it does not for same-race couples. This is particularly true for White-Black couples.

This recent study offers valuable insights into how structural barriers alter the social significance of cohabitation for interracial couples, particularly White-Black couples. Challenges associated with crossing formidable barriers to intermarriage may have created a greater need for interracial couples to live together and test the strength of their ties before marrying. Therefore, the subset of White-Black cohabitations that end up as a marriage tends to be more stable than marriages not preceded by cohabitation.

Facebook image: Iryna Imago/Shutterstock


1. Livingston, G. and A. Brown. (2017). Intermarriage in the U.S. 50 Years After Loving v. Virginia. Washington, DC: Pew Reports.…

2. Wang, W. (2012). Interracial marriage: Who is ‘marrying out’? Washington, DC: Pew Reports.…

3. Kroeger, Rhiannon A., and Kristi Williams. (2011). “CONSEQUENCES OF BLACK EXCEPTIONALISM? Interracial Unions with Blacks, Depressive Symptoms, and Relationship Satisfaction.” The Sociological Quarterly 52, no. 3 (2011): 400–420.

4. Herman, M. and M. E. Campbell. (2012). I wouldn’t, but you can: Attitudes toward interracial relationships,
Social Science Research 41(2): 343-358.

5. Choi, Kate, Rachel Goldberg, and Patrick A. Denice. (2022). Stability and outcome of interracial cohabitation before and after transitions to marriage. Demographic Research 46(33): 957–1006.