Study: First, should come engagement, then comes marriage

AT ISSUE: New research found that living together before marriage is more common today and doesn’t carry the stigma that it once did. But is that right? Statisticians don’t seem to look at that. But they should.

WHEN I SAW Mike McCurry‘s name commenting on the study by the (fed) Centers on the Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) I knew I was in on some interesting reading. He is a professor at South Dakota State University. He is also a demographic expert. Demography: The study of the vital statistics of human populations. The next time was when I read his report of the study.

But before you get too far in to this, I might ask what in the world could be more boring as demographics? The answer is easy. I know it’s statistics because I had to take a college course in them. So, let’s go on with both demographics and statistics.

Ted Cruz 2016


I first met Dr. McCurry at a convention in Pierre. His report there on populations in South Dakota so interested me that I knew right then when I see his name in print, I’m going to read it.

FOR EXAMPLE: In 2000 there were 6,882 marriages in South Dakota and 2,678 divorces. Then compare those numbers with 5,939 marriages in 2010 in the state and 2,774 divorces.

In 2000 there were fewer people living in the state, but there were more marriages than a decade later. And that 10-years later, found more people living in South Dakota, but fewer marriages and more divorces than a decade earlier. What does all of this mean?

Woodrow Wilcox


The study revealed that living together before marriage doesn’t play as big a role as it used to. That’s because there appears to be less stigma to it now.

ACCORDING TO McCurry, “It’s just because it has become more acceptable. Before that was absolutely something that people didn’t accept doing. So you would go into it and had a chance you wouldn’t get approval from either side of the family. So, if you get married, you wind up with two separate mothers-in-law busting on your case. It’s not going to be easy.”

According to the CDC study of 22,000 men and women, times have changed from the days when living together signaled a poor chance for a successful marriage later. However, living together has been a long growing trend.

For example, in the late 1960s only about 10 percent of the American couples moved in together first. Then they ended up with higher divorce rates. Today about 60 percent of the couples live together before marriage. So what does that tell you? Go back and reread the For Example paragraph.

The study also found that couples who were living together but weren’t even engaged the later marriage was less likely to survive to the 10 or 15 year mark.

OR, TO PUT IT another way, there was about a 60 percent chance of the likelihood a marriage would last at least 15 years if the couple hadn’t lived together before the wedding or were at least engaged while living together.

In other words, engagement means commitment. But if there was no firm commitment the likelihood of marriage would last 15 years fell to 53 percent. An explanation could mean a more lax attitude about commitment for whatever reason.

McCurry called cohabitation a step on the way to marriage now since two-thirds of the couples is doing it.

HOWEVER, neither the CDC study nor he go into the right or wrong of cohabitation–without that ring.

To stray from that study for a moment, the other Sunday our pastor referred to another study. It was on church membership and attendance. He said there was 30 percent of the population of any community that did not have any affiliation with a church–not even a whisper of membership. And this doesn’t even count those who go once in a while or the C’ers and E’ers (Those who go just at Christmas and Easter). Perhaps that is one reason for the lax opinions on cohabitation.

However, one person I know who seldom misses a church service, explained it this way: “It’s like taking a Saturday night bath. It’s so refreshing and also cleansing like a bath. I need both every weekend.”

I don’t know if our pastor would agree with his explanation or not, but it does make a point.

TO ILLUSTRATE what I’m trying to say, I’ll go back to the CDC study. “Almost half of the first marriages today will break up within 20 years.” Considering what the study showed is the norm today about living together before, or instead of marriage, those couples might want to reexamine their living arrangements….

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Gordon Garnos was long-time editor of the Watertown Public Opinion, retiring after 39 years with that newspaper. Garnos, a lifelong resident of South Dakota except for his military service in the U.S. Air Force, was born and raised in Presho.
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