Does shacking up lead to divorce? Maybe not.

Personal Finance
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For years, worried fathers and mothers have been wagging fingers at their kids who choose to live together before marriage. And for years, parents had an arsenal of research on their side.

But now a new study suggests that parents have been armed with bad facts. Age, not shacking up, is the best indicator of divorce.

“In the last 50 years, the percentage of men and women who cohabit before marriage—‘living in sin’ as it was still called in the 1960s—has increased by almost 900 percent,” the study’s author, sociologist Arielle Kuperberg at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, writes. “Today 70 percent of women aged 30 to 34 have cohabited with a male partner, and two-thirds of new marriages take place between couples who have already lived together for an average of 31 months.”

Previous studies suggested cohabitation raised the risk of divorce by as much as a third. But Kuperberg finds that couples who began living together, unmarried or married, before the age of 23 were the most likely to later split.

“My study finds that when couples are compared by the age at which they move in together and start taking on the roles associated with marriage, there is no difference in divorce rates between couples that lived together before marriage and those that didn’t,” Kuperberg writes. “It turns out that cohabitation doesn’t cause divorce and probably never did.”

Read more: Just divorced? How it may impact your taxes in 2014

Read more: How are assets divided in a divorce?

Illustration by Brian Yee