Does living together before marriage lead to divorce?

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Before we plunk down our hard-earned money, we consumers like to know that we'll be happy with our purchases. Few people buy clothing or shoes without trying them on, and you'd likely never go through the hassle of buying a car without a test drive first. Grocery stores offer samples to get consumers to try new products, and electronics stores let you play with cameras, computers and video games so you'll know what you're getting.

In our try it before you buy it culture, it makes sense that couples would choose to live together before committing their entire lives in marriage. After all, if you're not compatible, why spend all that money for the wedding and the inevitable divorce? Living together before marriage is a relatively new concept in the United States, though. While countries around the world adopted the practice with gusto decades ago, U.S. couples who cohabited were seen as "living in sin." In the 1970s, only about 500,000 couples lived together before tying the knot, but now, upwards of several million couples will [source: Wartik]. According to one estimate, 60 to 70 percent of today's couples will share a residence before marriage [source: McCarthy].

You might think that with more couples road-testing their cohabitation compatibility that divorce rates would fall? After all, there are no surprises -- you've shared a bathroom and you know just how many cups of coffee your beloved needs in the morning. However, numerous researchers are finding that couples who live together have a higher rate of divorce than couples who don't cohabit before marrying. And prior to the divorce, these couples have lower rates of marital satisfaction. Why is this?