Cohabitation and Church Attendance Factor into Likelihood of Divorce

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By Aaron Earls

For couples looking to increase their chances of a lasting marriage, research offers some advice: don’t live together before marriage, but do attend church together.

Researchers at the National Center for Health Statistics examined marital history data from the National Survey of Family Growth to determine what factors into the probability of a lasting first marriage.

Couples who live together before getting married have a lower chance of having a long-term marriage than those who don’t live together, according to analysis by researchers at the Pew Research Center.

A woman who refrained from living with her husband prior to their wedding has a 57 percent probability her marriage will last at least two decades. Those who cohabitate decrease their probability to 46 percent.

For men, the more commitment is made prior to living together the more likely their marriages are to last. Those who live with their future spouse before even being engaged have the lowest chance of a long-term marriage at 49 percent. For those who wait until after marriage, they have a 60 percent chance of celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary.

Another factor to help solidify a marriage may be church attendance, as opposed to religious identification, according to sociologist Brad Wright. “Six in 10 evangelicals who never attend church had been divorced or separated, compared to just 38 percent of weekly attendees,” he says.

Research from W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Wolfinger linked couples attending church together with happier relationships. Their study also found sharing friends at a congregation and praying together also increased the likelihood a couple was happy together.

Social researcher Shaunti Feldhahn has written to debunk the myth that half of all marriages end in divorce. In reality, she says nearly three-quarters (72 percent) of currently married people are still with their first spouse.

Feldhahn also notes that her research discovered some surprising tips for maintaining a successful marriage. “We always say, ‘don’t keep score in marriage,’” she says. “But it turns out happy couples absolutely do keep score. They just keep score differently. They keep score of what the other person is giving, and then try to outdo each other.”

A study by LifeWay Research shows the average American views divorce much differently than the average Protestant pastor. While most individuals view any reason as good as another, pastors see some as more acceptable than others.

“Pastors make a distinction about the rightness of a divorce based on the reasons behind it,” says Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research vice president. “They want to account for the parts of Scripture that speak of possible rationales.”

AARON EARLS (@WardrobeDoor) is online editor of Facts & Trends.


  1. My husband and I didn’t cohabitate before we got married, but we don’t go to church. However, I definitely want to decrease our chances of getting divorced and so I think that going to church might be worth a consideration. Do you happen to know which church sects have the better chance of having their couples stay together?

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