People are waiting longer to get married and having sex earlier in life. A University of Missouri researcher says this creates a space in people’s twenties where they are engaging in a relatively new behavior that she’s calling “staying over.”

“Staying-over” is a pattern couples start fairly early in their relationships, says University of Missouri doctoral candidate Tyler Jamison. She says this kind of behavior didn’t exist fifty years ago. She heard from several couples on college campuses that they were routinely staying over at a partner’s house three or more times a week.

She studied 22 people ages 18 to 27. She said the reasons these people were setting up this routine were mostly convenience and interpersonal: this way the couples could spend time together without having to go out. But also, this gave couples a lot of control over how much time they spent together. She says they could spend some time together, sleep in the same bed, and get up and go about their separate lives the next day.

She says because people are looking for a serious relationship, but may not be ready to be married, staying over is a solution. She says most people have had sex by the time they are twenty, but the average age for marriage for women is 27 and for men is 28. She says that leaves a huge time for people wanting commitment and partnership, but maybe not marriage.  Many of her subjects said they didn’t know where they would be in a year, and didn’t want to make a commitment. Signing a lease and sharing living costs makes it more difficult for couples to break up. Many of these students who were in college said they didn’t know if they would follow their partner if he or she got a job in another state.

Jamison says some of the couples say they didn’t tell their parents they were staying over, and didn’t want to move in together so they didn’t have to admit their parents they were cohabitation. She says sometimes it was a “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation between parents and the twenty-somethings.

Jamison says she doesn’t think this will have a broad effect on national statistics on marriage or divorce. She did a study of only eleven couples in one area. She says this behavior probably occurs in pockets of society. She says she would like to do another follow-up study with those couples or couples like them to see how and if it effected their relationships.

(AUDIO) Allison Blood reports on staying over. Mp3 1:03