12/13/2011 07:22 pm ET | Updated Feb 12, 2012

Relationship Advice: Should You Move In?

At some point in our lives, most of us envision starting our own families. Recent research suggests many people are jumping on the family band-wagon younger than ever. A study from the Bowling Green State University's National Center for Family and Marriage Research's (NCFMR) states that 61 percent of young adults have formed a family by the age of 25 (whether it be having a child, getting married or cohabitating with a partner.) According to the study, 69 percent of family-formers were women compared to 53 percent of men.

It's not so much whether young adults will start families, but when, and education is playing a deciding factor in this decision. "Increasingly, young adults are spending more time in school as they pursue college and advanced degrees," Dr. Susan Brown, co-director of the NCFMR and a professor of sociology, told Science Daily. "This tends to delay family formation -- as most people aim to achieve financial security prior to starting a family."

Researchers also found that over 1/4 of young adults married before their 25th birthday with over 1/3 of them (men being the more likely ones) to follow a more traditional path (not living with their partner or having children before getting married.) Being a 25-year old childless, unmarried, non-cohabitator (living in a three-bedroom Chelsea apartment wouldn't really count,) I wasn't surprised to hear that so many young adults were making their way to the alters. Growing up in a small rural town in southern Vermont, I've seen a plethora of my high school classmates marry their childhood sweethearts, buy a home and start a family. While I use to be envious of this type of security, I'm happy I waited until I was 24 to get into a serious relationship and contemplate marriage. The freedom I had to be able to focus on myself, pursue my interests, discover my passions, travel and meet new people is something I wouldn't change. I know exactly what it is I'm looking for in a partner; a quality I might not have had if I settled sooner.

One of the more common and often debated family trends is cohabitation, (also mentioned in the above study), with over 3/5 of young adults cohabitating before marriage. The study states that women were 63 percent more likely to cohabitate, compared to 57 percent of men. "Today, most marriages are preceded by cohabitation," says Brown. "It's really become a stage in the courtship process. It's unusual for couples to marry without first cohabitating."

Cohabitation does seem to be a relatively young trend. My parents were married in 1982 and never lived together nor ever thought about living together. My roommate's parents were married in 1994 and also lived separately before tying the knot. Both couples are still married. Since cohabitating prior to marriage didn't play a factor in the success of these two marriages -- not to say that all couples who married in the 80s and 90s are still together -- 20-30 years ago, the need to live together seemed non-existent. I remember as a teenager asking my mom this exact question: "Why didn't you a dad live together before you got married?" Her response- "when you know, you know." By today's standards, this would be considered a huge risk; though, looking back, the house my dad was living in (at the time he was building) had no running water or heat, so from a practical standpoint, I can see why my mom never moved in with him. (Though at the end of the day, she maintains it was old-fashioned tradition and values -- not a lack of plumbing -- that was the reason my parents waited until marriage to live together.)

I recently asked some of my peers (all in their twenties) their views on cohabitation before marriage. The majority of them were supportive of the test-run marriage theory with responses like, "You need to know someone's lifestyle (i.e.: leaving hair in the shower drain, late nights out, never washing their dishes, etc.) before you marry them." Another reason: "Marriage without cohabitation is like buying a car without a test drive." If things ultimately don't work out, moving out is a much cheaper option than divorce. Still, several of my peers liked the traditional elements of waiting, having their own places and having more independence. My friend Patrick, who lived with his girlfriend for two years, put the concept of cohabitation into the best terms: Consider why you're doing it in the first place and if it's for the right reasons. "Don't move in with each other because it's "logical" or the "logical next step." Move in together because you truly appreciate being in each other's lives," he says.

I've never lived with a significant other, and when the time comes to make a decision, I'm not sure what I'll decide. I'll either go with the traditional route my parents took or go with the flow of my generation and do what seems to be the popular choice.

Follow Mary Wheeler on Twitter.