The federal government doesn’t know all the ways people are pinching pennies during the “Great Recession,” but it thinks it has found at least one: More unmarried couples are living together.
Between 2009 and 2010, the number of opposite-sex couples cohabiting jumped 13 percent, from 6.7 million to 7.5 million after having declined the previous year, though only by a statistically insignificant 2 percent, the U.S. Census Bureau said in a 19-page paper released Thursday.
Census analyst Rose M. Kreider noted that while the number of cohabiting couples has generally been on the rise for some time, “most shifts in family composition happen relatively slowly” and that a 13 percent increase in a single year is surprisingly large.
She said the bureau tried to find answers for this unusual change, and seemed to find them in dollars and cents.
As the recession and high unemployment lingered on, it’s a logical story line that many of these 868,000 newly cohabiting couples made the decision to save money by moving in together, Ms. Kreider said.
In 2008, for instance, census data show that 59 percent of all cohabiting couples were both employed. But by 2010, only 49 percent of such couples had two incomes. In addition, the percentage of couples with only one person working almost doubled, from 8 percent in 2008 to 15 percent in 2010.
As a result of information on couples’ addresses, the bureau could detect whether couples had been together for a while or were newly formed.
Again the recession seemed to play a role in their lives: Of couples who had been together for at least a year, 50 percent were both employed. But only 39 percent of newly cohabiting opposite-sex couples had two employed persons.
“What that said to me was that the newly formed couples were in sort of a worse employment situation than cohabiting couples overall,” Ms. Kreider said. Maybe the economy turned into “sort of a push factor for them,” helping them to decide, “OK, maybe it’s time to move in together.”
Ms. Kreider also looked at cohabiting men’s 12-month work history, and this, too, showed a major shift.
“Of the men who didn’t work at all in the last year,” 24 percent of them were in newly formed couples in 2010, compared to only 14 percent of newly formed couples in 2009.
“So again, it sort of looked like there’s something different this year, where the employment situation is such that it really might be enough to push people … into deciding, OK, it’s time to consolidate our residence,” Ms. Kreider said.
The census report, which was based on the Annual Social and Economic Supplement of the Current Population Survey, found that the new cohabitors were more likely to be younger (age 15 to 29) and have incomes less than $49,999.
Also, while two-whites couples remained the largest racial group among cohabitors, the share of such couples consisting of two blacks jumped from 6.8 percent to 11.4 percent.
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Cheryl Wetzstein covers family and social issues as a national reporter for The Washington Times. She has been a reporter for three decades, working in New York City and Washington, D.C. Since joining The Washington Times in 1985, she has been a features writer, environmental and consumer affairs reporter, and assistant business editor. Beginning in 1994, Mrs. Wetzstein worked exclusively ...
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