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More broadly, the term cohabitation can mean any number of people living together.
Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among people in the Western world.
In Europe, the Scandinavian countries have been the first to start this leading trend, although many countries have since followed. Mediterranean Europe has traditionally been very conservative, with religion playing a strong role. Until the mid-1990s, cohabitation levels remained low in this region, but have since increased.
During the past decades, in Western countries, there has been an increase in 'consensual unions' - that is unmarried couples cohabiting. According to the Christian tradition (that has influenced much of the Western world) sexual relations before marriage are prohibited. As society has become more secular, such beliefs have become less widely held by the population. In recent decades women have gained significant rights, and the state and church control over women's body, sexuality and reproduction has weakened. Women also gained economic opportunities, so their dependence on men has became lees strong. All these changes favored living arrangements alternative to marriage. 
In Central and Eastern Europe, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were major political changes, such as the fall of communist governments. These societies entered a new era of increased social freedom, lees rigid rules, and less authoritarian governments. They interacted with Western Europe and some became members of the European Union. As a result, the patterns of family life have started to change: marriage rates have declined, and marriage was postponed to a later age. Cohabitation and births to unmarried mothers increased, and in some countries the increase was very quick.
The fact that many couples choose to live together without formalizing their relation is also recognized by the European Union. The Directive 2004/38/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2004 on the right of citizens of the Union and their family members to move and reside freely within the territory of the Member States addresses these people in Article 3 which makes reference to "the partner with whom the Union citizen has a durable relationship, duly attested" and states that "The host Member State shall undertake an extensive examination of the personal circumstances and shall justify any denial of entry or residence to these people." Article 2 addresses "the spouse" and "the partner with whom the Union citizen has contracted a registered partnership". 
More than two-thirds of married couples in the US say that they lived together before getting married. "In 1994, there were 3.7 million cohabiting couples in the United States." This is a far cry from a few decades ago.
Before 1970, cohabitation was illegal in the United States. According to Dr. Galena Rhoades, "Before 1970, living together outside of marriage was uncommon, but by the late 1990s at least 50% to 60% of couples lived together premaritally. According to the U.S. Census, "the number of unmarried couples living together increased tenfold from 1960 to 2000."
Nowadays, it is seen as a normal step in the dating process. In fact, "cohabitation is increasingly becoming the first coresidential union formed among young adults."  People may live together for a number of reasons. Cohabitants could live together in order to save money, because of the convenience of living with another, or a need to find housing. Lower income individuals facing financial uncertainty may delay or avoid marriage, not only because of the difficulty of paying for a wedding but also because of fear of financial hardship if a marriage were to end in divorce.
When given a survey of the reasons why they cohabitate most couples listed reasons such as spending more time together, convenience based reasons, and testing their relationships, while few gave the reason that they do not believe in marriage. The extremely high costs of housing and tight budgets of today's economy are also factors that can lead a couple to cohabitation.
Today sixty percent of all marriages are preceded by a period of cohabitation. Researchers suggest that couples live together as a way of trying out marriage to test compatibility with their partners, while still having the option of ending the relationship without legal implications. "More than three-quarters of all cohabitators report plans to marry their partners, which implies that most of them view cohabitation as a prelude to marriage. Cohabitation shares many qualities with marriage, often couples who are cohabitating share a residence, personal resources, exclude intimate relations with others and, in more than 10% of cohabitating couples, have children. "Many young adults believe cohabitation is a good way to test their relationships prior to marriage. Couples who have plans to marry before moving in together or who are engaged before cohabiting typically marry within two years of living together. "About 10% of cohabiting unions last more than five years." [further explanation needed] According to a survey done by The National Center for Health Statistics, "over half of marriages from 1990-1994 among women began as cohabitation.
Cohabitation can be an alternative to marriage in situations where marriage is not possible for financial or family reasons (such as same-sex, interracial or interreligious marriages). Other reasons might include cohabitation as a way to avoid breaking the law (for polygamists, polyamorists or same-sex couples, where not permitted by law) or to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income, married couples (in the United States) or to avoid the negative effects on pension payments (among older people). Some people simply see no need to marry.[further explanation needed]
Cohabitation, sometimes called de facto marriage, is becoming more commonly known as a substitute for conventional marriage. In some states which recognize it, cohabitation can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period, or if the couple consider and behave accordingly as husband and wife. This helps provide the surviving partner a legal basis for inheriting the deceased's belongings in the event of the death of their cohabiting partner. In today's cohabiting relationships, forty percent of households include children, giving us an idea of how cohabitation could be considered a new normative type of family dynamic.
There has been a documented increase in the number of cohabiting couples in the last fifty years. In 1960, there were approximately 450,000 couples cohabiting in the United States; by 2011, the number had increased to 7.5 million. Because of the dramatic increase in the number of cohabiting couples, there are fewer objections to this kind of relationship than there were in the 1960s. Contemporary objections to cohabiting couples center around three primary topics; religion, social pressure, and the effect of cohabitation on a child's development.
Religious reasons are a primary factor cited by people for the opposition of cohabitation. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam have stances of opposition to cohabitation. These religious groups agree that cohabitation before marriage is a violation of their moral beliefs on the sanctity of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman outside of marriage. Pre-marital, extra-marital and same-sex relationships are all forbidden in Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. While most members of these groups don't adhere to the strict nature of their religious organization's belief on cohabitation, the pressure from other members of the group or religious authorities lead to a drop in cohabitation. Pope John Paul II stated that, "de facto free unions, i.e., those unions without any publicly recognized institutional bond, are an increasing concern." As for the Jewish perspective, "For example, normative Judaism forcefully rejects the claim that never marrying is an equally valid lifestyle to marriage. Judaism states that a life without marrying is a less holy, less complete, and a less Jewish life." 
Religion can also lead to societal pressures against cohabitation especially within large Evangelical Christian communities. "Researchers have posited many ideas about why cohabitation has increased in the United States and how the beliefs or opinions of others might affect one's decision to cohabit. Some have noted that a decline in religious authority and changes in religious structures have accompanied the rise in cohabitation."  In addition to Religious pressures, there are familial pressures that prevent cohabitation. Young adults that grew up in families that oppose cohabitation have lower rates than their peers.
Finally, there has been an increase in the research performed on the relationship between cohabitation and its effect on child development. People have opposed cohabitation because they believed that it led to an unstable environment for a child's development. Some Studies have shown a decrease in math skills and an increase in delinquency among children of cohabiting couples. However, when other environmental influences like poverty, low education of the parent, and violence in the home are controlled; children of cohabiting couples are developmentally similar to their peers of married couples.
Conflicting studies on the effect of cohabitation on subsequent marriage have been published. In countries where the majority of people disapprove of unmarried individuals living together, or a minority of the population cohabits before marriage, marriages resulting from cohabitation are more prone to divorce. But in a study on European countries, those where around half of the population cohabits before marriage, cohabitation is not selective of divorce-prone individuals, and no difference in couples that have cohabited before and after marriage is observed. In countries such as Italy, the increased risk of marital disruption for people who experienced premarital cohabitation can be entirely attributed to the selection of the most divorce-prone into cohabitation.
In 2002 the CDC found that for married couples the percentage of the relationship ending after 5 years is 20%, for unmarried cohabitators the percentage is 49%. After 10 years the percentage for the relationship to end is 33% for married couples and 62% for unmarried cohabitators.  
A 2004 study of 136 couples (272 individuals) from researchers at the University of Denver found differences among couples that cohabited before engagement, after engagement, or not until marriage. The longitudinal study collected survey data collected before marriage and 10 months into marriage, with findings suggesting those who cohabit before engagement are at greater risk for poor marital outcomes than those who cohabit only after engagement or at marriage. A follow-up survey by the researches of over 1,000 married men and women married in the past 10 years found those who moved in with a lover before engagement or marriage reported significantly lower quality marriages and a greater possibility of a separation than other couples.  About 20 percent of those who cohabited before getting engaged had since suggested splitting - compared with only 12 percent of those who only moved in together after getting engaged and 10 percent who did not cohabit prior to marriage.
The researchers from Denver suggest that relationships with pre-engagement cohabitation "may wind up sliding into marriage", whereas those that only cohabit post engagement or marriage make a more clear decision. This could explain their 2006 study of 197 heterosexual couples finding that men who cohabited with their spouse before engagement were less dedicated than men who cohabited only after engagement or not at all before marriage. In some heterosexual couples, women are more likely to understand cohabitation as an intermediary step preceding marriage, and men more likely to perceive it without an explicit connection to marriage.  
An analysis of data from the CDC's National Survey of Family Growth data from 1988, 1995, and 2002 suggests that the positive relationship between premarital cohabitation and marital instability has weakened for more recent birth and marriage cohorts, as the total number of couples cohabitating before marriage has increased.
Later CDC work found that between 2002 and 2006-2010, the number of couples in opposite-sex cohabiting relationships increased from 9.0% to 11.2% for women, and from 9.2% to 12.2% for men. Drawing on the 2006-2008 data, Princeton university researchers examined whether and to what extent variation in premarital cohabitation experiences influence marital stability. They found that the relationship between cohabitation and marital instability is complex and depends in part on marriage cohort, race/ethnicity, and marriage plans. Their analyses reveal that a 'cohabitation effect' exists only for women married prior to 1996, and that, until marriage plans are considered, there is no cohabitation effect among women married since 1996. 
Recent research from 2011 by the Pew Research Center has found that the number of couples that cohabit before marriage has increased. 44% of adults (and more than half of 30- to 49-year-olds) say they have cohabited at some point. Nearly two-thirds of adults who ever cohabited (64%) say they thought about it as a step toward marriage. The report also notes a trend toward rising public acceptance of cohabiting couples over the years. Most Americans now say the rise in unmarried couples living together either makes no difference to society (46%) or is good for society (9%). 
In 2001, research was done on the effects of living in a cohabiting household versus a single-parent household on teenagers. The results showed that White teenagers fare worse living in a cohabiting household than living in a single parent household. They tend to do worse in school, are more likely to get suspended or expelled, and have just as many behavioral and emotional problems as those living with a single-parent. The impact for Hispanic teens is just as dramatic and the impact for Black teens is less noticeable.
More often than not, children most often experience cohabitation through their mother's form of a new relationship; whether of not the children are born to a single or married mother. A late 1990s study stated that children are expected to be a part of a cohabitating family by the age of twelve. Those children who were born from single mothers had a higher chance of cohabitating by the age of twelve compared to those children whose mothers were married by about 63%. For those children whose mothers were married, their expectancy to enter into a cohabitating household was about 15% by the age of twelve. Often in a cohabitating relationship, adults will produce children of their own. For those children being brought into this new household, around thirty-nine percent of babies will be born within the formation of a cohabitating relationship by the time these children are twelve. The expectancy of children being in a cohabitating family by the time they are twelve was 37% in 1990-1994 and grew to 46% in 1997-2001. with this rapid growing rate, it is expected that in the United States, half of the children will be living with a cohabitating mother, and most by or before the age of twelve.
When children are born in a cohabitation situation, marriage is often one of the next steps. These children are 90% more likely to enter into a marriage as opposed to children that were born to single mothers. The likelihood that an unmarried single mother will get married has actually been proven to increase and vary depending on the mothers education level. Children of mothers who attended a four year college are 74% more likely to find that their mothers may wed as opposed to the high school drop out mothers, where their children only have a 40% expectancy for them to marry. There is also a difference in ethnicity for children in cohabiting households who expect the relationship to move towards a marriage. Hispanics are 67% likely to see their mothers getting married, whereas African American children only have a 40% expectancy. Overall, children who were born to younger mothers are more likely to see their mothers marry at some point as opposed to older mothers. Children who are born to younger mothers are also more likely to experience maternal cohabitation. It is thought that this is due to the limiting available market as you age, and often older women, ages 25 and up, were married at some point before their cohabitation. Either scenario children experience a disruption in family dynamic.
University of Chicago sociologist Linda Waite  found that "16 percent of cohabiting women reported that arguments with their partners became physical during the past year, while only 5 percent of married women had similar experiences." Most cohabiting couples have a faithful relationship, but Waite's surveys also demonstrated that 20 percent of cohabiting women reported having secondary sex partners, compared to only 4 percent of married women. A 1992 study found that male members of heterosexual couples with children are less likely to be a part of the childcare but half the time they are responsible for child abuse.
According to an article by Judith Treas and Deirdre Giesen, cohabiting couples are twice as likely to experience infidelity within the relationship than married couples.
In the United States, married couples that submit a combined tax return may face a marriage penalty, where tax credits for low-income single earners are not applied to the combined income. In October 1998, Senate GOP leader Trent Lott decided to pull a bill to abolish "the marriage penalty," "which in the tax code reflects the fact that married couples who both work for wages frequently pay more in taxes than if they earned the same amount of income but weren't married. And the more equal the incomes of the couple, the steeper the marriage tax penalty."  The Earned income tax credit (EITC) is a wage supplement for low-income workers, but the problem is the EITC is not for married couples because they have to combine their wages, which again leads to "the marriage penalty." If couples do not get married then their wages do not have to combine and the EITC in a way is "paying for" low-income couples not to marry. Opponents of cohabitation believe that some cohabiting couples choose not to marry because they would suffer a tax penalty.
Despite the perceived disincentive to marry that the EITC provides, cohabiting couples suffer many financial losses as their unions are not recognized with the same legal and financial benefits as those who are legally married. These financial penalties can include the costs of separate insurance policies and the costs of setting up legal protections similar to those that are automatically granted by the state upon marriage.
A conflicting study, published by the National Center for Health Statistics, with a sample of 12,571 people, concludes that "those who live together after making plans to marry or getting engaged have about the same chances of divorcing as couples who never cohabited before marriage."
Additionally, William Doherty, a professor in the Department of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota has remarked that in his research he has found that "committed cohabiting relationships seem to confer many of the benefits of marriage."
A 2003 study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that "The differences in measured outcomes for those from direct and indirect marriages appear to be entirely attributable to other factors."  The study concluded that the evidence suggests that premarital cohabitation has "little impact one way or the other" on the chances of any subsequent marriage surviving.
Cohabitation in the United States became common in the late 20th century. As of 2005[update], 4.85 million unmarried couples were living together, and as of 2002[update], about half of all women aged 15 to 44 had lived unmarried with a partner. In 2007, it is estimated that 16.4 million households were maintained by two opposite sex persons who said they were unmarried. 
Before the mid-20th century, laws against cohabitation, fornication, adultery and other such behaviors were common in the US (especially in Southern and Northeastern states), but these laws have been gradually abolished or struck down by courts as unconstitutional.
As of 2013, cohabitation of unmarried couples remains illegal in four states (Mississippi, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina), while fornication remains illegal in six states (Idaho, Utah, South Carolina, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Illinois). These laws are almost never enforced and are now believed to be unconstitutional since the legal decision Lawrence v. Texas in 2003. However, these laws may have indirect effects. For example, one consequence may be that one may not claim their boyfriend/girlfriend as a dependent (for a tax exemption), whereas in the other states it may be possible to do so after meeting 4 criteria: residency, income, support and status.
In 2006, in North Carolina, Pender County Superior Court judge Benjamin G. Alford ruled that North Carolina's cohabitation law is unconstitutional. However, the Supreme Court of North Carolina has never had the opportunity to rule on it, so the law's statewide constitutionality remains unclear.
On December 13, 2013, US Federal Judge Clark Waddoups ruled in Brown v. Buhman that the portions of Utah's anti-polygamy laws which prohibit multiple cohabitation were unconstitutional, but also allowed Utah to maintain its ban on multiple marriage licenses. Unlawful cohabitation, where prosecutors did not need to prove that a marriage ceremony had taken place (only that a couple had lived together), had been a major tool used to prosecute polygamy in Utah since the 1882 Edmunds Act.
According to the 2009 American Community Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, the proportion of 30-to-44-year-olds living together has almost doubled since 1999, from 4% to 7%. Fifty-eight percent of women aged 19 to 44 had ever cohabited in data collected in 2006-08, while in 1987 only 33% had. Cohabitation is more prevalent among those with less education. "Among women ages 19 to 44, 73% of those without a high school education have ever cohabited, compared with about half of women with some college (52%) or a college degree (47%)," note the Pew study's authors, Richard Fry and D'Vera Cohn.
(a) The couple must hold themselves out to society as being akin to spouses. (b) They must be of legal age to marry. (c) They must be otherwise qualified to enter into a legal marriage, including being unmarried. (d) They must have voluntarily cohabited and held themselves out to the world as being akin to spouses for a significant period of time.
In Britain today, nearly half of babies are born to people who are not married (in the United Kingdom 47.3% in 2011; in Scotland in 2012 the proportion was 51.3%) The Victorian era of the late 19th century is famous for the Victorian standards of personal morality. Historians generally agree that the middle classes held high personal moral standards and rejected cohabitation. They have debated whether the working classes followed suit. Moralists in the late 19th century such as Henry Mayhew decried high levels of cohabitation without marriage and illegitimate births in London slums. However new research using computerized matching of data files shows that the rates of cohabitation were quite low—under 5% -- for the working class and the urban poor.
In Bulgaria, there has been a rapid increase in cohabitation after the fall of communism. The transition from communism to market economy had a great impact on the demographic behavior of the population. After the fall of communism, the legal and social pressure to get married has declined, and the population has started to experience new life styles. As of 2012, 57.4% of children were born to unmarried mothers.
The literature on second demographic transition argues as well that highly educated women are more prone to engage in cohabitation, although the reasons are different: they are less concerned with respecting the societal norms. Some scholars argued that cohabitation is very similar to being single in the sense of not giving up independence and personal autonomy.
In Hungary, cohabitation was an uncommon phenomenon until the late 1980s and it was largely confined to the divorced or widowed individuals. Among the ethnic groups, Gypsy/Rroma tended to have higher rates of cohabitation, mainly due to their reluctance to register their marriages officially. Since the 1980s, cohabitation became much more frequent among all ethnic groups and it has been argued to have strongly influenced the decline in fertility.
Cohabitation in Ireland has increased in recent years, and 35.1% of births were to unmarried women in 2012. Until a few decades ago, women who had children outside of marriage were severely stigmatized and often detained in Magdalene laundries. The Civil Partnership and Certain Rights and Obligations of Cohabitants Act 2010 gives some rights to unmarried cohabitants (under this act same-sex couples can enter into civil partnerships, while long term unmarried couples - both heterosexual and same sex - who have not registered their relation have some limited rights and obligations).
In Poland, after the fall of communism, the influence of religion has increased. Indeed, Poland has one of the most religious population in Europe (see Religion in Europe). Cohabitation in Poland has traditionally been associated with the lower social classes, but in recent years an increase in cohabitation has also been seen among the more educated. Family structure in Poland remains still traditional: marriages are still contracted at relatively young ages, and the incidence of divorce is relatively low (by European standards). The exact incidence of cohabitation is not well established, but it is quite low compared to other Western countries. However, Poland is not completly 'immune' to Western influence, and in 2012, 22.3% of children were born outside of marriage.
Slovakia is more conservative and religious than neighboring Czech Republic. The principal form of partnership is marriage, but extramarital childbearing and cohabitation are slowly spreading, yet this trend is not without criticism; and some view these phenomena as a threat to traditional values. In 2012, 35.4% of births were to unmarried women. Fertility in Slovakia has been described in a 2008 study as "between tradition and modernity".
Aside from the law, cohabiting remains very much taboo across the region. Nevertheless, the issue of cohabitation of unmarried couples has featured in some Tunisian movies, such as Les Silences du Palais (1994)
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