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Why couples are choosing cohabitation over marriage

Living together has replaced getting married for many couples. Here’s what to keep in mind.

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After about two years of dating, Matt Garville, 38, made some space in his closet for his girlfriend, Aloria Rucker, 31. At the time, Rucker was living with a roommate in Brooklyn but spending most nights with Garville at his roommate-less apartment in Hoboken, he says, so the move made sense. The couple agreed they were in the relationship for the long haul, with marriage on the horizon. But first, a necessary step: cohabitation.

“It’s kind of like an interview process,” Garville says. “You’re both kind of interviewing each other. You learn their quirks and how clean they are and how they decorate a room. It’s the final compatibility test. If you pass the roommate test, it’s all systems go from there.”

They aced the roommate test. A year into living together, Garville proposed. Although he never had any hesitations about marrying Rucker, he still wanted to live together first. It felt weird not to. Plenty of Garville’s friends set a precedent. He was just following along in the contemporary relationship timeline: You meet, you date, you’re exclusive, you move in together, you get engaged, then you marry.

If nursery rhymes are clues to how couples live their lives, “first comes love, then comes marriage” is sorely outdated. Once considered taboo due to the mere suggestion that a couple was having premarital sex, cohabitation before marriage is now the norm. According to a 2019 Pew Research Center analysis, 59 percent of adults aged 18 to 44 have lived with a romantic partner, compared to 50 percent of that demographic who have ever been married. A 2021 analysis of National Survey of Family Growth data found that among those aged 18 to 44 who married between 2015 and 2019, 76 percent of couples cohabitated first; that was true of just 11 percent of marriages between 1965 and 1974. On average, partners live together for more than two and a half years before getting married, per a 2019 analysis of data from the National Survey of Families and Households and National Survey of Family Growth.

Living together without the legal protections — or long-term commitment — of marriage can make cohabitation difficult for those who aren’t intentional about their relationships. Married couples report higher trust and satisfaction in their relationships compared to unmarried cohabitating partners, according to the Pew analysis. A 2023 report found that married couples who had moved in together before getting engaged or married were 48 percent more likely to divorce than those who cohabited only after proposing or tying the knot. This doesn’t mean marriage is superior to cohabitation, but it could mean that couples who openly discuss their futures have less ambiguity about their relationships.

When couples don’t share how they feel about moving in — which is common, says Galena Rhoades, a research professor and director of the Family Research Center at the University of Denver — one party may eventually feel let down. If one partner sees moving in together as the lead-up to marriage and the other is looking for cheaper rent, someone is bound to be disappointed. Those who have made that prior commitment, whether by getting engaged or by committing their lives to one another before sharing a home, are more likely to stay together.

However, marriage isn’t a balm for a middling relationship. And plenty of people, especially women, people of color, and queer people, have historically not benefited from the institution. Wider acceptance of unmarried cohabitation allows couples who previously would have been considered “nontraditional” more flexibility to live their lives authentically.

Today’s couples may be no less committed than in decades past, but shifts in social mores have redefined the place of marriage in society — and set new standards for when a person feels “ready” to wed.

The rise of cohabitation

Early America was a nation of cohabitors. Prior to the late 1800s, most states recognized common-law marriage — a legal marriage between two people who lived together but who did not receive a marriage certificate or get married in a religious ceremony — says Arielle Kuperberg, a professor of sociology at UNC Greensboro and chair of the Council on Contemporary Families. Because low-income Americans and people of color were largely having common-law marriages, Kuperberg continues, lawmakers, the courts, and the public at large considered the practice lower-class, and states began abolishing the unions. Most states no longer recognized common-law marriage by the mid-20th century.

The decline of common-law marriage led to a new type of living situation: cohabitation. In the early to mid-20th century, cohabiting couples fell into similar demographics as those who had sought common-law marriages, Kuperberg says: people of color and those with low education levels. Because the Supreme Court didn’t legalize marriage for interracial couples until 1967 — or same-sex couples until 2015 — multiracial and queer couples had no other choice but to cohabitate without marrying.

Amid the sexual revolution of the late 1960s, the New York Times shed light on cohabitation, reporting on a college-aged couple who were not married, but lived together. The incident initially sparked outrage, Kuperberg says, but in the years that followed, cohabitation became trendy, with celebrities jumping on board. Instead of being considered low-class or sinful, widespread acceptance of living with a romantic partner signaled an ideological change. “People had premarital sex before that,” Kuperberg says, “but then it became ‘You can have premarital sex and not be a fallen woman.’”

Social and economic advancements in the 1970s allowed women greater economic and bodily autonomy. Easier access to birth control and legalized abortion meant women could pursue college and careers with greater control over when to have children. With this newfound flexibility and income, marriage was less of a way to shore up resources for a woman and her children and more something to choose. “We had a group of women who felt very independent, felt they could make their own decisions, could control their fertility,” says Pamela Smock, a professor of sociology at the University of Michigan. “Having sex in the relationship is no longer bad.”

A less religious populace, unburdened by the constraints of purity and virginity before marriage, was one that was more eager to shack up. As more states legalized no-fault divorces, making it easier for couples to split, the divorce rate rose in the late 1970s and early 1980s. This may have caused people to be more cautious about tying the knot, leading them to live together instead, Kuperberg says.

Meanwhile, disillusionment with the institution of marriage has grown. In the US, laws and social mores have been historically hostile toward couples in queer, Black, and interracial pairings, which also may have turned people away from tying the knot. Worldwide, many women are opting out of marriage because of partner infidelity, increasing personal independence, and greater security living with parents and siblings. Perhaps in response to the high divorce rates of the 1980s and having divorced parents themselves, couples may be skeptical of “traditional” family structures, and a shrinking proportion of Americans consider it important for parents of children to be married. Thirty-nine percent of young women aged 18 to 34 say marriage is “old-fashioned and out-of-date,” according to a Survey Center on American Life report. And being unmarried no longer carries the same social stigma it did in past eras.

Cohabitation as a test run for marriage

Whether people are skeptical of marriage, hold it in high regard, or plan to bypass it entirely, many of today’s couples see cohabitation as another milestone on the way to long-term partnership. Wanting to avoid the headache and expense of divorce, some pairs now consider living together as “marriage lite” without any of the legal trappings.

However, choosing to cohabit doesn’t necessarily translate to a deeper commitment, Rhoades says. Plenty of people end up in marriages simply because they lived together first, she says. Some partners “slide” into living together — that is, move in together because it’s convenient (say, the other person’s lease is up) or to save money, not because they’ve considered a long-term future with their partner.

Anna Doran never viewed cohabitation as a trial run for marriage. If she was going to move in with someone, she was going to marry them. The 27-year-old grew up in a religious household where family and friends agreed: You don’t live together until you tie the knot. Doran was up front with her expectations early in relationships, which prompted deep conversations with her now fiancé, Andrew Russo, 31, including whether they wanted to spend their lives together and their respective home life habits and preferences.

Last summer, Russo asked for Doran’s parents’ permission to marry her and bought a ring, and the pair signed a lease on a shared apartment in Philadelphia. A month later, he proposed. Some of Doran’s friends were skeptical about their approach. “What if I found out he did this thing that annoyed me every day for the rest of my life?” she says of their thinking. “On the flip side, I had other friends that did wait until marriage and had always told me how special it made the actual feeling of getting married.”

Moving in, regardless of relationship status, increases the likelihood of a couple staying together by making it harder to break up, Rhoades says. “You’ve done things like commit to being together for the life of your lease,” she says. “You’re joining finances, you’re relying on one another for parenting, you’re sharing friends. You’re increasing things that may make it harder to end the relationship, while not necessarily increasing your sense of commitment.” A pair who moves in together early in their relationship must navigate getting to know one another with many of the same stressors as marriage.

For a cohabitating couple, breaking up can be just as devastating as divorce — they may have purchased furniture together, combined finances, or adopted a pet. Without the legal guardrails of divorce, divvying up property and assets can be messy. Unmarried parents face extra hurdles when dealing with the custody of their children post-split. For example, unmarried parents who break up are entitled to child support arrangements, but the child’s paternity must first be established via DNA or genetic testing. By contrast, a married man is assumed to be the legal father of his wife’s children.

Smock notes that when children are involved, many people choose to marry because it is easier for married parents to navigate institutions like schools and doctor’s offices. “Once people feel like it’s time for children,” she says, “that often spurs the marriage.”

Since women tend to take the greatest financial and professional hit when rearing children, they stand to lose the most in a breakup. “People don’t want to entangle themselves legally, but those legal things are also a protection in many ways,” Kuperberg says. “It’s often protection for the more financially vulnerable person in the relationship, which, more often than not, is women.”

Financial security as a precursor for marriage

Economic security may have once been a major reason to get married, but people today are often delaying it until they feel more stable in their finances, experts say. “Being a married couple,” Smock says, “people perceive ... that you’ve reached a certain level of economic security.” But with so many obstacles preventing people from reaching their monetary goals, having the type of wedding they want is often unfeasible until later in adulthood. Many people attend college, often accumulating student loan debt in the process. If they’re able to get a job after graduation, it might not pay enough — wages haven’t grown much since 1960. Health care costs are higher, housing costs are higher, the cost of a wedding itself is higher. Young couples in particular hope to enter their marriages on a strong financial footing, Smock says, with security over their income, employment, and a down payment. As a result, only the most economically advantaged people may end up saying “I do.”

Waiting until they were married to live together allowed Sonny Grant-O’Sullivan and his wife, Lucinda, both 27, to splurge on vacations and the lavish wedding of their dreams. Despite dating for five years, Grant-O’Sullivan and Lucinda never considered sharing a home during that time. They both lived with their parents rent-free in London, a mere 20 minutes away from one another. “I suppose we got the best parts of living together: We saw each other all the time because we lived so close together,” he says. “But we avoided cons. We didn’t have to have arguments over who was doing the most cleaning or if someone snored in bed because we went our separate ways after our dates.”

The couple initially didn’t plan to move in immediately after their wedding last July, either. But after spending a few days together in a hotel after the ceremony, they determined their desire to live rent-free was trumped by the allure of living with a spouse. They began renting an apartment a few weeks later.

Grant-O’Sullivan admits the transition to married life would have been easier if they had lived together first, but he doesn’t regret their choices. They were able to save about £2,000 a month (around $2,500) for their wedding. “Having that kind of financial security, where we weren’t paying a lot of money for rent, meant that we were able to save for our wedding in about a year, and we had a really amazing wedding,” he says.

Cohabitation, too, allows partners the time to financially mature and save before marriage. Having another person to split the rent, utilities, groceries, and other expenses with may push people into committed romantic living situations they may not have seriously considered, Rhoades says. But if the option is between living with roommates you may not know or like or cohabit with your partner, the choice, for many, is clear.

All of this isn’t to say that every couple who lives together should get married or that marriage is in some way superior. Some people would prefer they remain legally and financially unentangled from their partners, especially after a breakup. Others may lack stable housing and live with a partner out of necessity. However, cohabitation comes with much of the emotional and logistical baggage of marriage without the clarity and legal protection of actually being married, which can cause even more strife if one partner does want to tie the knot and the other is hesitant. If a couple is ready to take on the shared responsibilities that come with cohabitation, it’s worth considering why they aren’t getting hitched instead, Rhoades says.

“That’s a good question,” Matt Garville says when reflecting on his own relationship timeline. “It just seems like you’re skipping a step.”

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Can Canada stave off populism?

Justin Trudeau’s true dough plans to fight populism with policy.

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Canada has a growing populism problem. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thinks so.

Like many other countries — including the United States — Canadians have spent the last several years dealing with pandemic restrictions, a rise in immigration, and a housing affordability crisis (among much, much else). And like many other countries, that’s showing up in a host of ways: Trust in institutions like the government and media is down. Sentiment on immigration is becoming more negative.

“Well, first of all, it’s a global trend,” Trudeau told Sean Rameswaram in an exclusive interview on Today, Explained. “In every democracy, we’re seeing a rise of populists with easy answers that don’t necessarily hold up to any expert scrutiny. But a big part of populism is condemning and ignoring experts and expertise. So it sort of feeds on itself.”

As Trudeau points out, Canada is not alone. But our northern neighbor’s struggle is notable because the country has long been seen as resistant to the kind of anti-immigrant, anti-establishment rhetoric sweeping the globe in recent years — in part because multiculturalism is enshrined in federal law.

It goes back to the 1960s, when French Canadian nationalist groups started to gain power in Quebec. They called for the province’s independence from Canada proper.

The federal government, led then by nepo daddy Pierre Trudeau, stepped in. Rather than validating one cultural identity over the other, the elder Trudeau’s government established a national policy of bilingualism, requiring all federal institutions to provide services in both English and French. (This is why — if you ever watch Canadian parliamentary proceedings, as I did for this story — politicians are constantly flipping back and forth between the two languages.)

Canada also adopted a formal multiculturalism policy in 1971, affirming Canadians’ multicultural heritage.

The multiculturalism policy has undergone both challenge and expansion in the half-century since its introduction. But Pierre Trudeau’s decision to root Canadian identity in diversity has had lasting impacts: Canadians have historically been much more open to immigration — despite having a greater proportion of immigrants in their population — than their other Western counterparts.

But in more recent years, that’s begun to change rapidly as large numbers of immigrants have entered the country amid a housing affordability crisis. An Environics Institute survey showed that in 2023, 44 percent of Canadians felt there was too much immigration — an increase from 27 percent the year before.

That’s where Conservative opposition leader Pierre Poilievre comes in. Known as a “soft” populist, he’s started calling on Canada to cut immigration levels (so far, without demonizing immigrants, as we’ve seen from his populist counterparts elsewhere in the West).

That said, he looks like a traditional populist in a lot of other ways: Poilievre embraced Canada’s 2022 Freedom Convoy protests, opposed vaccine and mask requirements, voted against marriage equality, has proposed defunding the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, wants schools to leave LGBTQ issues to parents, and has talked about repealing a litany of government regulations — from the country’s carbon tax to internet regulations. Basically, he’s against any “gatekeepers” to Canadians’ “freedom.”

And that message? It seems to be resonating with voters, including young ones.

The plan: Fight populism with policy

Enter: Trudeau’s half-trillion-Canadian-dollar plan for “generational fairness,” also known as the “Gen Z budget” for its focus on younger generations feeling the economic squeeze most acutely.

“People are facing an anxiety that the economy doesn’t work for them anymore. That the deck is stacked against young people in a way that is different from previous generations,” Trudeau said on Today, Explained. “And that’s a problem because it leads to a sense of uncertainty about the future and a sense of, ‘Okay, the institutions and society and government can’t actually help.’ And that sort of feeds into populism.”

To demonstrate that government can work for young people, Trudeau has allocated C$6 billion to help Canadian provinces build new housing — if they agree to certain conditions, like building denser neighborhoods and more climate-friendly housing. It also includes provisions to expand child care, provide school lunches, and invest in the Canadian AI sector.

To pay for it, the country plans to increase capital gains taxes on the wealthiest Canadians — C$19 billion over the next five years.

“I know there will be many voices raised in protest. No one likes paying more tax, even — or perhaps particularly — those who can afford it the most,” Canadian finance minister Chrystia Freeland said. “But before they complain too bitterly, I would like Canada’s 1 percent — Canada’s 0.1 percent — to consider this: What kind of Canada do you want to live in?”

Though the Conservatives will oppose the plan, it’s likely to pass.

Trudeau, in a blue shirt with rolled-up sleeves, gestures widely as he speaks at a podium before a crowd.
Trudeau speaks in April about the government’s proposal to provide low-cost leases of public land to developers and push factory construction of homes as part of a “historic” plan to alleviate Canada’s housing crisis.
Arlyn McAdorey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Can it work?

The bet Trudeau is making is this: The best counterpoint to anti-establishment rhetoric is … using the establishment to make people’s lives better.

“The biggest difference between me and the Conservatives right now is: They don’t think government has a role to play in solving for these problems,” Trudeau told Today, Explained. “I think government can’t solve everything, nor should it try. But it can make sure that if the system isn’t working for young people, that we rebalance the system. Market forces are not going to do that.”

A key challenge will be demonstrating progress by the time elections roll around. Housing and real estate experts generally cheered the announcement — but noted that it might be years before people on the ground see any real change. Elections, on the other hand, aren’t yet scheduled but have to happen by October 2025 (parliamentary systems, man).

In the meantime, Conservatives are still ahead in the polls, though there’s some evidence that their lead is starting to diminish after the Liberals spent a month previewing their budget.

If he’s successful, Trudeau argues that his strategy could be a blueprint for other nations confronting similar trends — particularly during an election year in which we expect populist rhetoric to play a significant role.

“There’s no question that democracies remain a lot more advantageous to human beings than any other structures, but it’s not as obvious as it used to be,” Trudeau told Today, Explained. “We have to remember: Democracies didn’t happen by accident, and they don’t continue without effort.”

This story appeared originally in Today, Explained, Vox’s flagship daily newsletter. Sign up here for future editions.

Correction, April 23, 1:25 pm ET: This story, originally published April 23, misstated the name of Canada’s public broadcaster. The correct name is the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

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Ukraine aid and a potential TikTok ban: What’s in the House’s new $95 billion bill

It heads to the Senate this week, and could soon be law.

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After months of uncertainty, Congress greenlit a $95 billion package with substantial aid for Ukraine, as well as funds for Israel and US allies in the Indo-Pacific region.

It’s one of the most significant bills to pass in months, and follows weeks of intense GOP infighting about the wisdom of sending more money to Ukraine as its war with Russia enters its third year. Ukraine is heavily dependent on US aid, and its leaders have argued that American money will be critical to break the impasse the country is in amid tenacious Russian attacks.

The bill is also a strong signal of support for Israel as global and domestic outcry has grown regarding the country’s attacks in Gaza and the humanitarian crisis there. And, it contains two elements meant to target China’s power: military funding for Asian allies — including Taiwan — as well as a measure banning TikTok in the US if the app’s China-based owner, ByteDance, does not divest it.

All four measures advanced with bipartisan support in both chambers, though a sizable number of House Republicans balked at approving more support for Ukraine. Similarly, progressives in the House and Senate opposed providing more funding for Israel, highlighting the enduring foreign policy divides in both parties.

What’s in this package

In total, the package contains four bills meant to assist key allies with their military efforts, while also deterring China and Russia.

Ukraine aid: The bulk of this aid package — $61 billion — is dedicated to helping Ukraine counter Russia’s ongoing military offensive. These funds include $14 billion aimed at replenishing Ukraine’s weapons and ammunition, $13 billion to restock US military supplies that have previously been sent over, and $9 billion in forgivable loans for other rebuilding efforts, including infrastructure.

This measure passed 311-112 in the House, with only Republicans voting against it, and provides long-awaited funds to Ukraine as Russia has made territorial gains. The four bills were also approved as one package in the Senate, advancing 79-18, with two Democrats, one independent, and 15 Republicans voting against it.

Support for Ukraine has prompted backlash from far-right Republicans, who argue these funds would be better spent domestically at the southern border. As a result of this vote, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) has threatened to call for Speaker Mike Johnson’s removal when the House returns from recess.

Israel aid: There’s $26 billion in the measure dedicated to aid related to the Israel-Gaza conflict, including $13 billion to bolster Israel’s military capabilities and US stockpiles that have been depleted due to material transfers, and $9 billion for humanitarian aid for Gaza and other places around the world.

This measure passed 366-58 in the House, and signals that the US will continue to boost Israel’s military resources despite some lawmakers’ concerns about violence and famine in Gaza. More than 30 progressive Democrats opposed this bill and a handful of far-right Republicans did the same. Progressives have been vocal about the need for an immediate ceasefire and have spoken out against sending more money to arm Israel due to the casualties and humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

Aid to Indo-Pacific allies: About $8 billion in the aid package is focused on helping US allies in the Indo-Pacific region, including Taiwan, boost their military capabilities. There’s roughly $6 billion dedicated to deterrence, which includes building out stronger submarine infrastructure in the region.

This measure passed the House 385-34 and comes as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has put a new spotlight on Taiwan and the question of whether the Chinese government would one day invade it. Of the three aid bills, this one received the most bipartisan support, with just roughly three dozen Republicans voting against it.

REPO Act and sanctions: A fourth bill, which contains provisions of the REPO Act, would allow the US to transfer seized Russian assets to Ukraine, which it could use for reconstruction. It also imposes harsher sanctions on Russia, Iran, and China. TikTok bill: A TikTok “ban” is also included in this fourth bill. That measure requires ByteDance, TikTok’s parent company, to sell the app within nine months or risk getting banned from operations in the US.

This fourth bill passed the House 360-58 and had about 30 progressives and 20 far-right Republicans opposed. The REPO Act and TikTok measures were an attempt to add some concessions for Republicans reluctant to back Ukraine aid who’ve raised national security concerns about the app in the past.

Why this is such a big deal

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy enthusiastically welcomed the House’s actions, calling them “vital” and claiming they will save “thousands and thousands of lives.”

Military leaders and foreign policy experts have emphasized that US aid to Ukraine has been central to its ability to hold off Russia and will be critical if Ukraine is to counter a potential summer offensive. Since the war began, the US has sent Ukraine roughly $111 billion in aid. In recent months, Ukraine has been running low on ammunition and material needed for its air defenses, as Russia has made more inroads. “Make no mistake: without US aid, Ukraine is likely to lose the war,” Max Boot, a military historian and fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has written.

The Ukraine bill was a sharp reminder of the divides in the Republican Party, with more moderate and classically conservative members supporting aid and some far-right members calling for a more isolationist stance.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, heralded the bill’s passage and criticized former Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson for sowing opposition to Ukraine. “The demonization of Ukraine began by Tucker Carlson, who in my opinion ended up where he should have been all along, which is interviewing Vladimir Putin,” McConnell said in a press briefing.

Far-right Republicans, like Greene, however, have been incensed by the approval of the bill, and vowed to keep on pushing for Johnson’s removal, the same threat that was once employed against former House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

After the House returns from its current recess, Johnson could face additional calls to vacate from those on the right, though some Democrats have signaled that they could save him. Should Johnson lose his gavel, the House would, once again, have to navigate the chaos of another speaker’s race as it did last year.

The aid to Israel is notable in that it comes as Democratic support for a ceasefire has grown as more than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza.

Overall, Israel aid remains an ongoing flash point for Democrats, with progressives calling out the Biden administration’s willingness to provide this support without strings attached. In recent months, the Democratic-led White House has taken an at times contradictory stance, offering critiques of Israel’s offensive while simultaneously funding it.

“To give Netanyahu more offensive weapons at this stage, I believe, is to condone the destruction of Gaza that we’ve seen in the last six months. And it’s also a green light for an invasion of Rafah,” Rep. Becca Balint (D-VT), a Jewish lawmaker who has called for a ceasefire, told the New York Times last week.

Many of the issues raised by this package are enduring ones. Ukraine will need more support from the US down the line as Russia maintains its attacks, and Republican divides are expected to persist. It’s possible Israel could seek more funding too, as its war continues, and that tensions inherent in the US’s current position toward the country will continue.

And the TikTok measure isn’t necessarily the end of the dispute over what to do about the app, either. As Vox’s Nicole Narea has explained, TikTok intends to challenge the policy in court on the grounds that it threatens people’s free speech.

Update, April 24, 1:30 pm ET: This story was originally published on April 21 and has been updated to include a Senate vote on this bill.

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