Census Bureau Changes How It Tracks Cohabitation
Special Report - August 1, 2008
In an effort to “more accurately reflect” the increasing number of cohabiting couples with children in America, the U.S. Census Bureau has changed how it identifies unmarried partners and their relationship to the children who are living with them. The government agency announced the changes on July 28 when it released a new report, “Families and Living Arrangements, 2007” which is based on data from the 2007 “Current Population Survey.” According to the Census Bureau, the 2007 survey was “expanded to include two new questions that allows tabulation about unmarried partner couples and their children.” Prior to 2007, a child who lived with cohabiting parents was counted by the survey as living with a single parent.
In a working paper explaining the change, Rose M. Kreider of the Bureau’s Housing and Household Economic Statistics Division writes, “Beginning in 2007, the [Current Population Survey] added a second parent pointer, as well as questions about the type of relationship between parents and their children. . .The addition of a second parent pointer and type of parent to the CPS allows for a detailed look at the number of parents with whom children live, and whether they are the children’s biological, step, or adoptive mother or father.” The 2007 survey also includes the addition of a question “for adults living with a nonrelative that asks whether they have a boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner living in the household.”
According to the 2007 survey the number of opposite-sex cohabiting couples in the U.S. has increased from 5.0 million in 2006 to 6.4 million in 2007. Four in 10 (or 2.5 million) of these opposite sex cohabiting couples lived “with at least one biological child of either partner,” compared to 26.8 million married couples who reported children living at home. In 2007, 50 million children were living with married parents, and 2.2 million lived with two unmarried parents. Of the 2.2 million children living with cohabiting parents in 2007, 42 percent were younger than age three (compared to 17 percent of children living with married parents), and 56 percent had both parents in the labor force (compared to 63 percent of children living with married parents).
“Unmarried couples are increasingly likely to have children present in the household,” Ms. Kreider writes in her explanation of the 2007 survey changes. “This is a concern to policy makers since research shows that children living with married parents fare better on average than those with cohabiting parents.” For example, a recent report from the National Marriage Project (NMP) at Rutger’s University found that cohabitating couples are more likely than married couples to split, with one study estimating that cohabiting couples break up at a rate five times higher than married couples. In addition, the NMP report found that 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. NMP founder and co-director David Poponoe, who authored the report, concluded: “From a society-wide, child-oriented perspective, there is little social benefit to the rise in non-marital cohabitation. . . In the final analysis, the issue of cohabitation comes down to a conflict between adult desires and children’s needs.”
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