The XX Factor

More Unmarried Americans Than Ever Are Cohabiting

The fastest-growing age group for unmarried lovers who live together? Fifty and over.

The ranks of American cohabiters are climbing, according to an analysis of census data and the Current Population Survey from the Pew Research Center. In 2016, 18 million adults were living with an unmarried partner, a steep 29 percent increase from the 14 million who cohabited in 2007.

Though more Americans than ever are living in sin, the rise in cohabitation seems more a function of dropping marriage rates than rising rates of early-relationship U-Hauling. About half of cohabiting U.S. adults are under 35; in previous decades, a greater proportion of those couples would already be married. Nowadays, more young people are opting for the pleasure of listening to their significant others’ sleep and bathroom noises each and every glorious day without the burden of tax benefits or a party where people buy you new sheets.

But the fastest-growing age group of cohabiters in the past decade is older Americans: U.S. adults aged 50 and over. This population grew by 75 percent, or 1.7 million people, between 2007 and 2016, and now comprises 23 percent of all cohabiting adults in the country. Some part of the trend can be chalked up to the straightforward shift of baby boomers aging into this demographic, making it larger overall. It’s also a reflection of the higher divorce rates and lower marriage rates experienced by the people who’ve entered the over-50 age group in the past decade, though divorce rates have been declining in recent years. More than half of cohabiters who are 50 and older are divorced, and another 13 percent have experienced the death of a spouse. Among those aged 65 and over, 27 percent are widows and widowers.

Despite its rise in popularity, cohabiting is still a relatively rare practice—the largest age group represented by cohabiting Americans is the 25 to 34 demographic, which has only 14 percent living with unmarried partners. Just 7 percent of the entire U.S. adult population cohabits.