Report Analyzes Cohabitation Effects
Special Report - June 23, 2008
The rapid increase in cohabitation in the United States and other advanced nations over the past three decades has “little social benefit,” according to a new report from the National Marriage Project (NMP) at Rutger’s University. The report, “Cohabitation, Marriage and Child Wellbeing: A Cross-National Perspective,” written by NMP founder and co-director David Poponoe, analyzed the latest data on cohabitation (living together outside of marriage) in the U.S. and several Western nations, including Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands. The report notes that in the U.S. alone, the number of cohabiting couples has increased by over 1,000 percent since 1970, with cohabiting couples accounting for 10 percent of all couples today. “No family change has come to the fore in modern times more dramatically, and with such rapidity, as heterosexual cohabitation outside of marriage,” writes Poponoe.
Among the report’s key findings: 1) the majority of young people in most of the world’s advanced nations will cohabit at some point in their lives; 2) cohabitation is a major contributor to the decline in marriage in many countries, and “once established in the culture, cohabitation seems gradually to be corroding the desire of couples to move to marriage;” 3) cohabitation and marriage are not the same, with one study estimating that cohabiting couples break up at a rate five times higher than married couples; 4) cohabitation has contributed to the leveling off in the divorce rate in many countries, including the U.S; 5) cohabitation is a “major contributor” to the rise in unwed births and single-parent families; and 6) cohabitation has “negative effects on child wellbeing,” with research showing that children growing up in cohabiting households are more likely to experience the break up of their families and to suffer behavioral, psychological and physical problems (such as poverty or disease) than children from intact families.
“From a society-wide, child-oriented perspective, there is little social benefit to the rise in non-marital cohabitation,” concludes Poponoe. “In the final analysis, the issue of cohabitation comes down to a conflict between adult desires and children’s needs.” Poponoe makes a number of policy-related recommendations in the report, including: “educating young people about marriage and its strong relationship with successful child-rearing from the early school years;” marriage education for all engaged couples and married couples experiencing problems; and changing divorce laws “so that they better take into account the needs of children.” Finally, he recommends avoiding “the legal establishment of new institutions that compete with marriage,” which “give to unmarried couples similar rights and obligations to those of married couples, and thus inevitably tend to weaken the institution of marriage.”
Copyright © 2008. North Carolina Family Policy Council. All rights reserved.