More couples are choosing to live together before they are married, suggests new research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Not only are couples living together longer before marriage, many become pregnant before marriage. Close to half of heterosexual women (48%) between 2006 and 2010, ranging in age from 15 to 44 years, reported they were not married to their partner or spouse when they first began cohabitation.

This number has risen since the last report in 2002, which documented 43%, and up from 34% in 1995.

Only 23% of females in the current report say they were married before living with their significant other – a decrease from 30% in 2002, and down from 39% in 1995.

Additionally, almost 75% of women 30 years of age or younger reported living with a partner who they were not married to at one point in their lives, compared with 70% in 2002, and 62% in 1995, according to the research.

The study was based on 12,279 interviews with women who were in heterosexual partnerships from 2006 to 2010.

Many cohabitations happen at a young age, with one-quarter of females cohabiting by age 20. Within the first year of living together, close to 20 percent became pregnant and gave birth.

The females from the study who were living with their partners for the first time between 2006 and 2010 ended up getting married within three years, while 32% of those partnerships stayed the same, and 27% broke up.

The numbers are rising among racial and ethnic groups, except for Asian women, the study suggests. Forty-four percent of white females married within three years of cohabiting the first time, while 31% of black women and U.S.-born Hispanic females did so.

In regards to education, 53% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher got married by the end of the three-year mark, while just 30% of females with less than a high school diploma were married after three years.

The likelihood of becoming pregnant was greater among women under the age of 20, foreign-born Hispanic women, as well as females with less than a high school diploma.

The report also revealed:

  • The average length of time couples lived together was 22 months in 2006-2010, an increase from 13 months in 1995.
  • Close to one in five women became pregnant within the first year of living together.
  • 23% of the births happened while the couple was cohabiting from 2006-2010, risen from 14% in 2002.
  • Fewer women felt the need to marry after becoming pregnant in the 2006-2010 period – 19% of cohabiting women got married within six months of becoming pregnant, compared with 32% in 1995.

A study done last year and published in the Journal of Marriage and Family revealed that married couples who live together experience few psychological well-being benefits, health, or social ties compared to unmarried couples who live together. The study suggests that cohabiting and marriage offer benefits, however, these benefits decrease after the “honeymoon period”.

A separate study from 2010 revealed that 28 percent of the nearly 1.5 million unmarried women who gave birth from 2007 through 2008 were living with a significant other.

Written by Kelly Fitzgerald