Cohabitation in Middle and Later Life is becoming more popular

Cohabitation is gaining popularity across the life course. In the US, the 2014 American Community Survey found that the number of older men and women (defined as those aged 50 and older) in a cohabiting relationship was about 1.2 million (or 1.6% of older adults). Since then, the number of cohabiting older adults has nearly tripled to 3.2 million in 2014 (Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2005).

The study also found that for the population of cohabitors aged 50 or older, they were younger, on average, than their married and single counterparts; the average age of cohabitors was 60 compared to 67 and 63 for single and married individuals, respectively.

In Australia, marriage has fallen progressively from 58% in 1986 to 49% in 2011. The proportion of marriages has fallen in all age groups up to and including 65–69 years. The decrease among Australians aged 50–54 years and 55–59 years has been greatest — more than 3% since 2006, and 7% since 2001.

In 1975, just 16% of marriages were preceded by cohabitation however by 2016, 81% of marriages took place after the couple had lived together.

According to the latest census data – Marriage and divorces, Australia 2016 – Marriages where both partners were marrying for the first time accounted for 72.3% of all marriage in 2016. The number of marriages where one partner was marrying for the first time decreased by 0.3 percentage points to 16.0% in 2016, while the proportion of remarriages for both partners increased from 11.7% in 2015 to 11.8% in 2016.

The proportion of adults living with a partner has declined during the last two decades, from 65% in 1986, to 61% in 2006. Factors such as the trend towards partnering at a later age, and the increased financial and social independence of women, may be associated with this decline, as well as legal changes in recent decades which have improved access to divorce (ABS, 2009).

While cohabitation is most prevalent among young people, the US experience and census data suggests that cohabitation is becoming an increasingly common experience among older Australians also.


  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 2016: Marriage and divorces, Australia
  • Australian Bureau of Statistics 2009: 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, March
  • Brown, Bulanda, & Lee, 2005: National Center for Family & Marriage Research, Bowling Green State University.

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