Are you living with your girlfriend and thinking about popping the big question? You may want to reconsider.

A new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, show that married couples have only few advantages compared to couples that aren’t married and live together.

“Marriage has long been an important social institution, but in recent decades western societies have experienced increases in cohabitation, before or instead of marriage, and increases in children born outside of marriage,” said Dr. Kelly Musick, professor at Cornell University College of Human Ecology. “These changes have blurred the boundaries of marriage, leading to question about what difference marriage makes in comparison to alternatives.”

Past studies have attempted to prove a definite association between marriage and a good quality of life, but those studies only compared marriage life to single life, and didn’t compare it to unmarried couples cohabitate.

For this particular study, Dr. Musick used research from the National Survey of Families and Households (NSFH), which used 2,737 single men and women, 896 who married or lived with a partner over a time of six years. The study consisted of questions dealing with happiness, levels of depression, health, and social ties.

Although results confirm that both marriage and cohabitation increase well-being compared to singles, these increases tend to decrease over time. Living together or being married caused people to see family members and friends less, and these effects increased over time.

“We found that differences between marriage and cohabitation tend to be small and dissipate after a honeymoon period,” said Musick. “Also, while married couples experienced health gains, likely linked to the formal benefits of marriage such as shared healthcare plans, cohabiting couples experienced greater gains in happiness and self-esteem.”

She added, “For some, cohabitation may come with fewer unwanted obligation than marriage and allow for more flexibility, autonomy and personal growth.”

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