Among 30-to-44-year-old US adults, college graduates who are not married but cohabiting with a partner earn more than any other married, cohabiting or single adults in this age group, according to June 2011 data from the Pew Research Center. In 2009, these adults earned an average of $106,400 per year.
Cohabitation Only Financially Benefits College Grads
In comparison, married college graduates earned an average of $101,160 per year, while college graduates with no partner earned an average of $90,067. Interestingly, among adults age 30-44 without a college degree, the highest earners by a wide margin were married adults ($56,800), who earned more than $10,000 per year more on average than their peers who cohabited ($46,540). Singles in this group earned an average of $45,033.
Only 7% of 30-44-Yr-Olds Currently Cohabit
Among the 30- to 44-year-old US adults who are the focus of this report, 7% lived with an opposite-sex partner in 2009, according to Pew analysis of Census data. The share is higher among adults without a college education (8%) than among those with college degrees (4%).
However, the proportion of adults who ever have cohabited is much larger than the share currently cohabiting, and it has grown to become a majority in recent decades, according to data Pew cites from the National Survey of Family Growth. Among women ages 19-44, for example, 58% had ever lived with an opposite-sex unmarried partner in 2006-2008, up 76% from 33% among a comparable group in 1987.
Same-Sex Cohabiters Earn More, Better Educated
About 400,000 adults ages 30-44 are partners in same-sex unmarried couples, according to the 2009 American Community Survey, compared with 4.2 million who live with a partner of the opposite sex. Same-sex couples have distinctive patterns of income, education and household composition. They have higher median adjusted incomes ($99,204) than opposite-sex cohabiters ($54,179), married couples ($70,711) or adults without partners ($53,399). About half (48%) are college graduates, a notably higher share than for other adults. Less than a third (31%) live with children, a lower share than opposite-sex cohabiters.
Large Shares of 30-44-Yrs-Old w/Out College Degree Live w/Kids
Among adults without college degrees, the majority of both married adults (85%) and cohabiters (67%) have children in the household. Pew says the relatively large presence and number of children in the households of cohabiters without college degrees may reduce the extent to which both partners in such relationships can earn income.
Whatever their partnership status, adults in households with children have significantly lower median household incomes than comparably educated adults in households without children. Cohabiting adults without college degrees are much more likely to be in a household with children than are college-educated cohabiters, diminishing their potential economic gains from cohabitation.
- Among the college-educated, two-earner couples were more prevalent among cohabiters (78%) than married adults (67%) in 2009. By working more, cohabiters offset married adults’ higher median earnings.
- Among those without college degrees, two-earner couples were slightly less prevalent among cohabiters (55%) than among married adults (59%) in 2009. In addition to being more likely to work, these married adults have the advantage of higher median earnings.
- Among the college-educated, a much higher share of married adults (81%) than of cohabiters (33%) lived in a household with children in 2009. In addition, among those with children in the household, married adults tend to have more children.
Marriage Less Common in Lower Socioeconomic Classes
November 2010 Pew Research data indicates the decline in US marriage rates has occurred along class lines. In 2008, a 16-percentage-point gap separated marriage rates of college graduates (64%) and of those with a high school diploma or less (48%). In 1960, this gap had been just four percentage points (76% vs. 72%).
The survey also finds that those with a high school diploma or less are just as likely as those with a college degree to say they want to marry. But they place a higher premium than college graduates (38% compared 21%) on financial stability as a very important reason to marry.
About half (52%) of all adults in this country were married in 2008; back in 1960, seven in 10 (72%) were.. In 1960, two-thirds (68%) of all 20-somethings were married. In 2008, just 26% were.