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For women’s emotional health, living together is as good as marriage

April Breeden (L) places a ring on the finger of her partner, Crystal Peairs, during their wedding ceremony at City Hall in St. Louis, Missouri November 5, 2014.
Reuters/ Whitney Curtis
Women’s emotional health improves from living with a partner—with or without a ring.
  • Olivia Goldhill
By Olivia Goldhill

Science reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Studies have shown that marriage significantly increases lifetime happiness. But new research indicates that even people who opt to live together rather than make their union more official can see such benefits.

A recent study by researchers from Ohio State University, published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that, for women, moving in with a romantic partner for the first time creates a similar decline in emotional distress to getting married for the first time.

Men, on the other hand, only have a significant increase in emotional health when they marry for the first time. And both genders become even happier if they’re living together and then take the step of getting married.

When it comes to second relationships after a first significant one ended, both men and women have similar boosts in emotional health when they move in together or get married.

Claire Kamp Dush, co-author of the study and associate professor of human sciences at Ohio State, said the results could reflect the declining social stigma in living together before marriage.

“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,” Kamp Dush said in a statement. “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.”

The study is based on a nationally representative survey of 8,700 people in the US born between 1980 and 1984 who were interviewed every other year between 2000 to 2010. Participants were asked about their relationship status and answered questions designed to test their emotional health, such as how often in the past month they’d felt “calm and peaceful,” “downhearted and blue,” or “so down in the dumps that nothing could cheer you up.”

There are some limits to the study, as the participants were not asked about the relationship quality of their union, and their emotional health was only tested biannually over 10 years. It could well be that cohabitation and marriage lead to different emotional effects over the longer term. But for those who’ve decided to put off marriage and live with their partner, this study suggests that they’re still benefitting from a happiness boost.

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