The findings suggest an evolving role of marriage among young people today, said co-author of the study Sara Mernitz from The Ohio State University in the US.
As recently as the early 1990s, young people still received emotional health benefits when they went from living together to getting married, Mernitz said.
“Now it appears that young people, especially women, get the same emotional boost from moving in together as they do from going directly to marriage,” she said.
“There is no additional boost from getting married,” Mernitz explained.
Another significant finding was that the emotional benefits of cohabitation or marriage aren’t limited to first relationships.
The study found that young adults experienced a drop in emotional distress when they moved from a first relationship into cohabitation or marriage with a second partner.
“The young people in our study may be selecting better partners for themselves the second time around, which is why they are seeing a drop in emotional distress,” study co-author Claire Kamp Dush, professor at Ohio State University said.
The researchers used data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth 1997. This study included 8,700 people who were born between 1980 and 1984 and were interviewed every other year from 2000 to 2010.
The study did find some gender differences, at least for first unions of marriage or cohabitation.
For those entering a first union, men experienced a decrease in emotional distress only if they went directly into marriage. There was no change in distress for men who cohabited with a female partner.
That may be because men are more likely than women to report cohabiting as a way to test a relationship, which has been linked in other research to subsequent relationship problems, the study said.
The findings appeared online in the Journal of Family Psychology.