AskDefine | Define cohabit

Dictionary Definition

cohabit v : room or live together; usually said of people who are not married and live together as a couple [syn: shack up]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. to reside with another as if married or as a married couple
  2. to coexist in common environs with
  3. intransitive archaic to engage in sexual intercourse; see coition.


Related terms

Extensive Definition

Cohabitation is an emotionally- and physically-intimate relationship which includes a common living place and which exists without legal or religious sanction.
Couples commonly choose to live together for one or more reasons: wanting to test compatibility or establish financial security before marrying, a desire to live as married when same-sex, interracial, or interreligious marriages are not legal or permitted, living with someone before marriage as a way to avoid divorce, a way for polygamists to avoid anti-polygamy laws, a way to avoid the higher income taxes paid by some two-income married couples (in the United States), negative effects on pension payments (among older people), and seeing little difference between the commitment to live together and the commitment to marriage.
Some couples prefer cohabitation because it does not legally commit them for an extended period, and because it is easier to establish and dissolve without the pricey legal costs often associated with a divorce. In some states cohabitations can be viewed legally as common-law marriages, either after the duration of a specified period, or the birth of the couple's child, 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.)
Today, cohabitation is a common pattern among younger people in the Western world, especially those who desire marriage but whose financial situation temporarily precludes it, or who wish to prepare for what married life will be like before actually getting married. More and more couples choose to have long-term relationships without marriage, and cohabitate as a permanent arrangement.


Traditionally in the Western world, a man and a woman who lived together without being married were socially shunned and persecuted and potentially prosecuted by law. In some jurisdictions, cohabitation was illegal until quite recently. Other jurisdictions have created a Common-law marriage status when two people of the opposite sex live together for a prescribed period of time.
Opposition to cohabitation comes mainly from conservative religious and family ethics groups. Religious arguments aside, opponents to cohabitation usually argue that living together (as opposed to marriage) is unstable and hence harmful for both partners, as well as for the children (if there are such). According to one argument, the total and unconditional commitment of marriage strengthens a couple's bond and makes the partners feel more secure, more relaxed, and happier than those that have chosen to 'test the waters'. Opponents of cohabitation commonly cite statistics that indicate that couples who have lived together before marriage are more likely to divorce, and that unhappiness, ill health, poverty, and domestic violence are more common in unmarried couples than in married ones. Cohabitation advocates, in turn, cite limited research that either disproves these claims or indicates that the statistical differences are due to other factors than the fact of cohabitation itself.

Cohabitation worldwide

United States


In some parts of the United States, there is no legal registration or definition of cohabitation, so demographers have developed various methods of identifying cohabitation and measuring its prevalence. Most important of these is the Census Bureau, which currently describes an "unmarried partner" as "A person age 15 years and over, who is not related to the householder, who shares living quarters, and who has a close personal relationship with the householder." Before 1995, the Bureau euphemistically identified any "unrelated" opposite-sex couple living with no other adults as POSSLQs, or Persons of Opposite Sex Sharing Living Quarters., and they still report these numbers to show historical trends. However, such measures should be taken loosely, as researchers report that cohabitation often does not have clear start and end dates, as people move in and out of each other's homes and sometimes do not agree on the definition of their living arrangement at a particular moment in time.
As of 2001, in the United States 8.2% of couples were cohabiting, and the regions where cohabitation were found to be more common is in the New England and West Coast regions.
In 2005, the U.S. Census Bureau reported 4.85 million cohabiting couples, up more than 1,000 percent from 1960, when there were 439,000 such couples. A 2000 study found that more than half of newlyweds lived together, at least briefly, before walking down the aisle.
The cohabiting population is inclusive of all ages, but the average cohabiting age group is between 25-34.


In one study, Jay Teachman, a researcher at Western Washington University, studied premarital cohabitation of women who are in a monogamous relationship. Teachman’s study showed "women who are committed to one relationship, who have both premarital sex and cohabit only with the man they eventually marry, have no higher incidence of divorce than women who abstain from premarital sex and cohabitation. For women in this category, premarital sex and cohabitation with their eventual husband are just two more steps in developing a committed, long-term relationship."
Many studies have found that those who live together before marriage have less satisfying marriages and a considerably higher chance of eventually breaking up. One reason is that people who cohabit may be more skittish of commitment and more likely to call it quits when problems arise. But in addition, the very act of living together may lead to attitudes that make happy marriages more difficult. The findings of one recent study, for example, suggest "there may be less motivation for cohabiting partners to develop their conflict resolution and support skills." (One important exception: cohabiting couples who are already planning to marry each other in the near future have just as good a chance at staying together as couples who don’t live together before marriage).

Legal status

Some places, including the state of California, have laws that recognize cohabiting couples as "domestic partners". In California, such couples are defined as people who "have chosen to share one another's lives in an intimate and committed relationship of mutual caring," including having a "common residence." This recognition led to the creation of a "Domestic Partners Registry", which is available to same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples in which at least one of the partners is age 62 or older, granting them limited legal recognition and some rights similar to those of married couples.
Decades ago, it was illegal in every state for adult lovers to live together without being married. Today, on the other hand, just six (6) states (North Carolina, Mississippi, Virginia, Florida, North Dakota and Michigan) still criminalize cohabitation by opposite-sex couples, although anti-cohabitation laws are generally not enforced. Many legal scholars believe that in light of in Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) such laws making cohabitation illegal are unconstitutional (North Carolina Superior Court judge Benjamin Alford has struck down the North Carolina law on that basis).


  • In Denmark, Norway and Sweden, cohabitation is very common; roughly 50% of all children are born into families of unmarried couples, whereas the same figure for several other Western European countries is roughly 10%. However many unmarried Scandinavian couples marry later on, when one or more of their children are already born.
  • In late 2005, 21% of families in Finland consisted of cohabitating couples (all age groups). Of couples with children, 18% were cohabitating. Of ages 18 and above in 2003, 13.4% were cohabitating. Generally, cohabitation amongst Finns is most common for people under 30. Legal obstacles for cohabitation were removed in 1926 in a reform of the Finnish penal code, while the phenomenon was socially accepted much later on among non-Christian Finns.
  • In the UK, 25% of children are now born to cohabiting parents.
  • In France, 17.5% of couples were cohabiting as of 1999.


  • In India, cohabitation is generally taboo. However, a small number of young couples in big cities are starting to prefer it. As in other places, people with conservative religious views are opposed to it. Female live in partners have economic rights under Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005.
  • In Japan, according to M. Iwasawa at the National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, less than 3% of females between 25-29 are currently cohabiting, but more than 1 in 5 have had some experience of an unmarried partnership, including cohabitation.
  • In the Philippines, around 2.4 million Filipinos (18% of population) were cohabitating as of 2004 . The vast majority of them are between the ages of 20-24. Poverty was often the main factor in decision to cohabitate.


North America - other

  • In Canada, 16.0% of couples were cohabiting as of 2001 (29.8.% in Quebec, and 11.7% in the other provinces).
  • In Mexico, 18.7% of couples were cohabiting as of 2005.
  • Ley de sociedad de convivencia: the Spanish name for "Cohabitation Societies Law" (a Wikipedia article not yet translated into English), a legislation created on November 9, 2006, by the Legislation Assembly of Mexico City to establish legal rights and duties for all those cases where two people (due to either sexual, familial or friendly reasons) are living together.
cohabit in German: Kohabitation
cohabit in Hebrew: נישואי חוזה
cohabit in Hungarian: Élettársi kapcsolat
cohabit in Dutch: Samenwonen
cohabit in Japanese: 同棲
cohabit in Norwegian: Samboerskap
cohabit in Serbian: Кохабитација
cohabit in Finnish: Avoliitto
cohabit in Swedish: Samboförhållande
cohabit in Chinese: 同居

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abide, ball, be intimate, berth, bunk, come together, commit adultery, copulate, couple, cover, diddle, domicile, domiciliate, doss down, dwell, fornicate, frig, hang out, have sex, have sexual relations, inhabit, lay, lie with, live, live together, lodge, make it with, make love, make out, mate, mount, nest, occupy, perch, remain, reside, room, roost, screw, serve, service, sleep with, squat, stay, tenant
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