According to a recent study into the relative health benefits of cohabitation and marriage, researchers came to a surprising conclusion. People who choose to live together without marrying may be more happy and healthy and have better social ties than married couples.

Throughout history, Americans have valued marriage very highly, believing that it is essential to the health and happiness of American families. But with the increasing number of couples who are choosing to cohabitate, many of whom have children outside of marriage, researchers decide to look into whether our long-held beliefs about marriage were accurate.

The study was conducted through a sample of people who had responded to the National Survey of Families and Households. Of the 2,737 people studied, about 900 had either married or moved in with a partner during the previous six years. Researchers studied the participants' responses in key areas of well-being, focusing on questions on happiness, health and social ties, and compared single, cohabitating and married respondents.

Both married and cohabitating couples reportedly experienced an increase in well-being directly after marrying or moving in together, researchers found. This correlated with the traditional notion of a "honeymoon period."

After that period ended, however, both couples experienced a decline in happiness and self-esteem. And while married couples saw an increase in health, cohabitating couples had greater levels of happiness and self-esteem. Researchers believe this is because cohabitation allows couples to maintain more autonomy and stronger social ties than people who are married.

What do you think? Are cohabitating couples happier than married couples?

Source: ScienceDaily, "Does Marriage Really Make People Happier? Study Finds Few Well-Being Advantages to Marriage Over Cohabitation," Jan. 18, 2012