Living with Your Partner? No Problem, More Americans Say
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Americans are more likely to accept the idea of living together out of wedlock and having children out of wedlock than they were a decade ago, according to a new report of the nation's attitudes toward marriage, childbearing and sexual behavior.

Americans are less likely, however, to accept the idea of divorce than they were a decade ago, according to the report, released today (March 17) from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In the report, the researchers used data from the National Survey of Family Growth collected in 2002, 2006 to 2010, and in 2011 to 2013. Over 45,000 people ages 15 to 44 were included in the surveys.

The survey reflects changes in behavior that have been going on for some time, said Paula England, a professor of sociology at New York University. [13 Facts on the History of Marriage]

Wendy Manning, a professor of sociology at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, agreed.

These results are not entirely surprising, because they're following general trends, Manning told Live Science.

Living together

The percentage of Americans who agreed with the statement, "A young couple should not live together unless they are married" decreased, according to the report. In 2002, 35 percent of women agreed with the statement, compared with 28 percent in 2011 to 2013; for men, 32 percent agreed with the statement in 2002, compared with 25 percent in 2011 to 2013, according to the report.

Manning attributed this trend in positive attitudes toward living together out of wedlock to what she calls the "cohabitation revolution."

More and more Americans are serially cohabiting, Manning told Live Science. This increase is driven in part by the fact that the average age of marriage is going up, Manning said. People see living together as a path toward marriage, and it gives them a chance to help test out their relationships, she said. People also think living together is a good thing, because they think it will help prevent divorce, she added.

Indeed, 60 percent of women and 67 percent of men agreed that living together before marriage may help prevent divorce, according to the report. (The researchers collected data on this only in 2006 to 2010 and 2011 to 2013, and the results did not change.)

Similar to the shifts in attitudes toward cohabitation, there has also been an increase in the percentage of Americans who agreed that it is okay for unmarried women to have and raise children. In 2002, 70 percent of women agreed with this sentiment, compared with 78 percent in 2011 to 2013, and for men, 59 percent agreed in 2002, compared with 69 percent in 2011 to 2013, according to the report.

This appears to fall in line with the increase in the number of Americans living together before getting married, Manning said. People may be having children during this time, she said.

Same-sex relations

The percentage of Americans who agreed with the right of gay and lesbian adults to adopt children increased. The percentage of women who agreed increased from 55 percent in 2002 to 75 percent in 2011 to 2013, and the percentage of men who agreed increased from 47 percent in 2002 to 68 percent in 2011 to 2013, according to the report.

There was also an increase in the percentage of Americans who agreed with the right of people to have same-sex sexual relations. The percentage of women who agreed increased from 42 percent in 2002 to 60 percent in 2011 to 2013, and the percentage of men who agreed increased from 40 percent in 2006 to 2010 to 49 percent in 2011 to 2013, according to the report. (Data was not available on this question for men in 2002.)

The data on sex-same relations is not surprising, England told Live Science. Since about 1990, Americans from a number of groups, including men, women, those from all socioeconomic levels, and blacks and whites, have been becoming steadily more liberal on this issue, she said. "It's really consistent with what we find from other surveys," she said. [Same-Sex Marriage: 6 Effects of the Supreme Court's Decision]

Manning agreed.

The changing attitudes have a lot to do with people being more accepting overall of gay and lesbian couples and families, she said. More Americans today think of gay and lesbian couples as families than in the past, she added. 

Divorce

While the percentage of Americans who had positive attitudes toward living together, having children out of wedlock and same-sex relations has increased, the percentage of Americans who had positive attitudes toward divorce decreased, according to the report.  

The percentage of women who agreed with the statement, "Divorce is usually the best solution when a couple can't seem to work out their marriage problems," decreased from 47 percent in 2002 to 38 percent in 2011 to 2013, and the percentage of men who agreed decreased from 44 percent in 2002 to 39 percent in 2011 to 2013, according to the report.

This finding is very different from the others, England said. While the other findings indicate that trends are going in a more liberal direction, the attitudes toward divorce are moving in a more conservative direction, she said.

England noted that it can be difficult to obtain answers concerning attitudes about divorce. For example, if you ask couples about it when they get married, it's unlikely you'll find people who say they think they will get divorced in the future, she said.

Divorce rates were higher in the 1960s and 1970s, and then leveled off from 1980 on, England said. Some people speculate that the shift away from divorce could be because parents may think that divorce could put their children at a disadvantage, she said.

Another potential explanation for the more negative attitude toward divorce could be because of how Americans think of marriage.

We think so highly of marriage, so it may be that the fear of divorce looms large, Manning said.

Follow Sara G. Miller on Twitter @SaraGMiller. Follow Live Science @livescience, Facebook & Google+. Originally published on Live Science.