A recent Barna study found that shifting gender roles and expectations, the delay of marriage, and a secularizing culture are leading more American adults to believe that moving in together before tying the knot is a good idea. Cohabitation is now ‘the new norm’.

This is a trend that has been growing steadily over time. Karen Kaplan in an article published in the Los Angeles Times in April of 2013 cited a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Among the women, 48% told interviewers that they were living with their ‘significant other’ but were not married to them. In 1995, only 35% of women were cohabiting with their partners, according to a previous edition of the survey.

According to the current Barna study, two-thirds of adults (65%) now either strongly or somewhat agree that it’s a good idea to live with one’s significant other before getting married, compared to one-third (35%) who either strongly or somewhat disagree.

Unsurprisingly, the study shows that most religious groups in America are the least likely to think cohabitation is a good idea. Most Christian teaching on pre-marital relationships encourages abstinence and other boundaries that tend to exclude cohabitation, and the data reflects these beliefs.

Practicing Christians (41%) are highly unlikely to believe cohabitation is a good idea and the stark contrast with those who identify as having no faith (88%) further demonstrates the acute impact of religious belief on views regarding cohabitation.

Similarly, it is no surprise that Millennials (72%) are twice as likely as Elders (36%) to believe cohabitation is a good idea.

These divides are equally as stark when looking at the conservative/liberal divide. Liberals, with a more progressive ideology, are more than twice as likely as conservatives, who value a more traditional view, to believe cohabitation is a good idea.

Those who find cohabitation valuable are overwhelmingly in agreement on the ‘why’: 84% cite ‘testing compatibility before tying the knot’, or ‘play-acting’ before taking the life-long plunge.

So it’s mostly about taking marriage for a ‘test-drive’ of sorts before choosing whether or not your partner would make a suitable life-time companion.

Quite surprisingly though is the finding that for couples that favor shacking up, considerations such as convenience and cost-sharing are comparatively insignificant at just 16% overall.

For cohabitation opponents, their biggest reason for waiting until after marriage to live together is simply religious (34%). The desire for abstinence prior to marriage is a major driver here: 28% chose “I don’t believe people should have sex before getting married” as their biggest reason for believing cohabitation is a bad idea.

Of lesser importance were issues of practicality (16%), the valuing of family and tradition (12%), and other reasons (10%).

Other themes of note that the Barna study revealed included the following:

– Older, conservative, and more religious (Christian or otherwise) Americans are the least likely to have ever cohabited.

– Interestingly, Millennials are one of the least likely of the groups measured to cohabit, though given their age (18-34 years) and stage of this, this is somewhat unsurprising.

– On the other side, younger, less religious, and more liberal Americans are more likely to have lived with a significant other before marriage. Interestingly, we see church attenders on this side, a fact that might prove how pervasive this cultural shift has in fact been.

– More than four in 10 (44%) of adults would be OK with their child cohabiting before marriage, and similarly, 40% would not be OK. Interestingly, however, when it comes to the strongest views, respondents were more likely to say “no, definitely not” (24%) than “yes, absolutely” (16%).