Marriage is widely believed to significantly contribute to a couple’s happiness. A new study suggests that cohabiting couples, even those who have not yet tied the knot, can see similar benefits.
Researchers at Ohio State University found that the first time men and women move in with a significant other, their emotional health becomes far healthier. In particular, women who decide to live with their romantic partner demonstrated a marked decline in stress and anxiety. Both genders become even happier if, after living together for some time, they then decide to get married.
“Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” said Sara Mernitz, co-author of the study and a doctoral student in human sciences at Ohio State University. “There’s no additional boost from getting married.”
The study, which was recently published in the Journal of Family Psychology, examined a nationally representative survey of 8,700 Americans. All participants were between 30 and 35 years old and were interviewed biannually for ten years in a period stretching from 2000 to 2010.
Each participant was asked questions about his or her relationship status as well as questions designed to test emotional well-being. Questions measured how often the participant had felt “calm and peaceful,” “downhearted and blue,” or “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up.”
“We are able to look at people over a 10-year period and see what happens to them individually as they make these various transitions in their relationships,” said Mernitz.
Although the study cannot say that the happiness boost will continue over an extended period of time, beyond the ten years in which the study took place, it does strongly suggest that couples who put off marrying in order to live with each other first will see positive health benefits.
The researchers think that their study is a reflection of the waning social stigma against unwed couples living together.
“At one time marriage may have been seen as the only way for young couples to get the social support and companionship that is important for emotional health,” said Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State. “It’s not that way anymore. We’re finding that marriage isn’t necessary to reap the benefits of living together, at least when it comes to emotional health.”