'Trial Marriage': Is premarital cohabitation an effective risk minimisation strategy for marriage breakdown?

Hewitt, Belinda A. (2006) 'Trial Marriage': Is premarital cohabitation an effective risk minimisation strategy for marriage breakdown? In Social Change in the 21st Century Conference 2006, 27 October 2006, Carseldine, Brisbane. (Unpublished)


One of the major shifts to occur in relationship formation over the last century is the increase in the number of people cohabitating prior to marriage. In Australia, the proportion of marriages preceded by cohabitation has risen from 30% in the 1980’s to around 75% in 2003. Sociological theories of the family propose that the increasing rate of cohabitation is, at least in part, a risk-management strategy in response to the perceived risk of divorce. In a social climate where marriage is no longer guaranteed for life, cohabitation offers the opportunity for a 'trial marriage', where a couple can get to know each other, negotiate roles, and develop communication skills prior to marriage, which should, in theory, reduce the likelihood of marriage breakdown. But how effective is cohabitation as a divorce-risk minimisation strategy? The weight of evidence from developed Western countries such as Australia, the U.S., the U.K., and Canada suggests that cohabitation increases the risk of marriage breakdown rather than minimising it. On the other hand, a couple of studies provide evidence that the increased risk of divorce, when a couple cohabits prior to marriage, is smaller for younger cohorts than for older cohorts. These results suggest that the increased likelihood of divorce with premarital cohabitation is diminishing over time, lending some support to the hypothesis that cohabitation does reduce the risk of divorce. In this paper I investigate these issues further using retrospective life course data from Wave 1 of the Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey (HILDA).

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ID Code: 6134
Item Type: Conference Paper
Refereed: Yes
Keywords: Marriage breakdown, Cohabitation, Marriage, cohort
ISBN: 1741071291
Subjects: Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification > STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY (160000) > SOCIOLOGY (160800) > Social Change (160805)
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Centre for Social Change Research
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > QUT Carseldine - Humanities & Human Services
Copyright Owner: Copyright 2006 Belinda A. Hewitt
Deposited On: 14 Feb 2007 00:00
Last Modified: 09 Jun 2010 12:37

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