Akron, OH- With almost half of all American marriages ending in divorce, religious leaders and social scientists are continuously looking for reasons why. For decades the prevailing wisdom has been that among the many other reasons why couples divorce, cohabitation has been pegged as the leading culprit. As it turns out, “shacking up” is not the villain, but the age at which couples begin to cohabit could be a better predictor of divorce.

For many couples cohabiting before marriage gives them the opportunity to get to know one another and decide if they want to spend the rest of their lives together. Cohabiting couples may carry on their lives just like a married couple; their lives become deeply intertwined. They buy houses together and have children. They also have nasty breakups just like married couples. Cohabiting couples just forego the formality of walking down the aisle, and the pain of seeking out a divorce attorney.

This people believe leads to more divorces if the cohabiting couple decides to make their union official in the eyes of the law, but a study, conducted by the nonpartisan Council on Contemporary Families found that a living together before marriage doesn’t mean couple is doomed to divorce. Instead, it is the age of the cohabiting couple that predicts divorce.

Arielle Kuperburg, a professor at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, explained to the Christian Science Monitor that couples who live together tend to be younger than couples who move in together after exchanging vows. When researchers “control for the age variable,” they find that cohabitation alone doesn’t affect the how long a couple will stay together. Researchers found that cohabiting couples aged 23 or younger are more likely to have a short-lived relationships.

“Part of it is maturity, part of it is picking the right partner, part of it is that you’re really not set up in the world yet,” she Kuperburg told the Christian Science Monitor. “And age has to do with economics.”

The findings from this study echo a 2012 report from the Centers for Disease Control which showed that engaged couples who move in together prior to their wedding had no greater chance of divorcing than engaged couples who lived separately.

The reason why a couple moves together is a better predictor of divorce than the simple act of living together. Some couples see cohabitation as precursor to marriage while others see it as a matter of convenience. Couples, especially those on the lower end on the income scale, may decide to cohabit because of financial issues. This, researchers say, often leads to divorce.

On the other hand, couples who view cohabitation as a trial run for marriage are less likely to divorce. Since they believe marriage is inevitable, these couples operate as though they are already married. Living together for these couples is not a matter of convenience, but a matter of commitment.

Some couples can’t make their marriages work, in spite of their best efforts. When a marriage is broken, a divorce attorney will guide a couple through the process and ensure their interests are protected in the process.