What would be the choice for many young people in many European countries:   Marrying or cohabiting? What would make them more satisfied?

A study in Italy looked at the developments of cohabitation and marriage between 1993 and 2013 and the connection to satisfaction levels. Spouses experience more partnership satisfaction than cohabiting couples in countries where cohabitation rate is low. What if cohabitation rate increases?

In the early 1990s in Italy cohabiters were almost ten percentage points more likely to report dissatisfaction with their family life than were married people. Within the following decade the cohabitation gap decreased; still, a significant difference of six percentage points in satisfaction with family life could be observed. However, in the final decade leading up to the early 2000’s the cohabitation gap disappeared, and cohabiting couples seem to be as satisfied with their joint life as their married counterparts.

Gender differences can still be observed because women are less satisfied with family life than men.

Similar levels of satisfaction can be observed for both the cohabiting couples and married couples regardless of whether the partners experienced a separation or divorce in the past, or whether stepchildren were present in the household.

Although people with higher education levels tend to be less satisfied, it is the financial difficulties that contribute more to family dissatisfaction than other factors.

Authors conclude that family dissatisfaction decreases as the number of cohabiting couples increases.

What does this mean?

Couples’ life satisfaction levels are less bound to a formal legal commitment than they are to bonding on a social level.

It would make sense to address this question legally as well without preferring one family form to another. Cohabiting couples feel as much a family as do married couples; therefore, it does not make much sense to treat them differently when it comes to the well-being and satisfaction levels of the couple. Would you agree?



Pirani, Elena & Vignoli, Daniele 2016. Changes in the Satisfaction of Cohabitors Relative to Spouses Over Time. Journal of Marriage and Family 78, 598 – 609.


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