- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

Want a long-lasting romantic relationship? Statistically speaking, marriage is a much better gamble than living with a lover, according to a report released yesterday by the federal government.

Women who live with their boyfriends have almost a 50-50 chance that their relationship will break up in five years, odds significantly worse than the 20 percent breakup risk of married couples during the same time frame, the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) says.

Still, cohabiting is a significant part of the American romantic landscape: Just 7 percent of women aged 15-44 were living with a boyfriend in 1995, but more than 41 percent of women said they had cohabited at least once, said a new NCHS report called "Cohabitation, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the United States."

The report looked at patterns of cohabiting, marriage, divorce and remarriage in "greater detail than has ever been done for the United States," said authors Matthew D. Bramlett and William D. Mosher, both of the Division of Vital Statistics at NCHS.

Many of the report's findings confirm what others have said: Married people, for instance, are likely to live longer, engage in less risky behavior, be more health conscious and have more satisfying sexual lives, higher wages and larger savings than unmarried people.

Divorced people are often less happy, have more health problems, more social isolation, greater levels of depression and alcohol use and less satisfying sex lives.

"The economic consequences of divorce can be severe for women" especially mothers with custody of the children because of the loss of the ex-husband's income, said the report, based on the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, which interviewed 10,847 women.

"For a man," the report concluded, "the retention of income, combined with decreased family size, may actually result in an increase in his new household's income per capita."

The NCHS report also goes "beyond the 'bookends' of marriage and divorce to look more closely at how the issue of cohabitation affects the life of a relationship, said Edward J. Sondik, director of the NCHS, which is an agency within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study found, for instance, that cohabiting couples in long-term, stable relationships often married. "Of those that are still together for five years, 70 percent of them have gotten married," said Mr. Bramlett.

But one cannot, therefore, say that 70 percent of cohabiting couples marry because couples in short-term relationships were not counted, he cautioned.

"Most cohabitations are of short duration. They either go on to marriage or they break up, and very few of them last a long time without going to marriage," Mr. Bramlett said, noting that, overall, 49 percent of first cohabitations broke up within five years.

The 100-plus-page NCHS study looked at women's age, race, income, education, motherhood, religious influence, family background, the kind of community they lived in, male unemployment rates, and whether the women had ever had "forced intercourse" or experienced "general anxiety disorder."

It found that:

•Cohabiting couples were more likely to marry if they lived in communities with lower male unemployment, higher median family incomes and lower rates of poverty and welfare.

•Marriages were most likely to flourish if the wife came from a two-parent home, was Asian, was at least 20 years old at marriage, did not have children, was college educated, had a good income or had a religious affiliation.

•Wives who grew up with two parents were less likely to experience a breakup in their marriages than wives who didn't live with two parents throughout their childhoods.

•The chance of marital breakup was lower if the wife had her first birth after marriage.

•Separated white women were most likely to file for divorce and had the highest probability of remarrying.

•Twenty-three percent of second marriages failed within five years; risks were increased if the wife was younger than 25 at remarriage, had children or lived in a poor community.

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