NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You've probably heard the warnings: living together before marriage will increase your chances for a divorce. For the past 20 years, one study after another has claimed that "premarital cohabitation" is associated with an elevated risk of divorce. In fact, on average, researchers have said that couples who "shacked up" before marriage had a 33% higher chance of divorcing than couples who waited to move in together after the wedding. But new research now says otherwise.

Arielle Kuperberg, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, says that previous research did not account for the age of the individuals who moved in together.

"This is because they have been comparing couples by their age at marriage rather than by their age when they moved in together," says Kuperberg. "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."

And it seems there is a definitive age that marks an increased risk of ultimate divorce among those who choose to live together, according to the research.

"It turns out that cohabitation doesn't cause divorce and probably never did," Kuperberg claims. "What leads to divorce is when people move in with someone – with or without a marriage license – before they have the maturity and experience to choose compatible partners and to conduct themselves in ways that can sustain a long-term relationship. Early entry into marriage or cohabitation, especially prior to age 23, is the critical risk factor for divorce."

The study also notes that over the past 50 years cohabitation has increased by more than 900%.

"Today 70% 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," Kuperberg says.

--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet