Cohabitation Rates Outpace Divorce Rates

More children in the U.S. are living with unmarried parents than divorced parents, says a new report from the National Marriage Project, written by 18 family scholars from leading institutions. Unfortunately, cohabiting households with children are linked to increased family instability and negative outcomes for children.

While Gen-Xers like me grew up during a doubling of the divorce rate, today’s children have different issues that are contributing to less stable families. Perhaps many of these children of divorce have fears about marrying and choose to cohabit and have children without marriage.

While divorce rates have come down considerably, family instability is on the rise because of the dramatic rise in cohabitation.  The number of Americans who have children and live together without marriage has increased twelvefold since 1970.

Cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split as parents who are married. Twenty-four percent of children born to married parents will see their parents divorce or separate by age 12, whereas 42 percent of children will experience parental cohabitation by age 12.

Compared to children from intact, married families, children in cohabiting homes are more likely to experience social and emotional problems, including drug use, depression and dropping out of high school. The report cites studies that show children in cohabiting families tend to perform worse in school and tend to be less psychologically healthy than children with married parents.

Children in unmarried households also have higher rates of abuse. A New York Times article that describes the report says it cited a 2010 report on child abuse by the federal Department of Health and Human Services. The department concluded children living with two married biological parents had the lowest rates of harm—6.8 per 1,000 children—compared to children living with one parent and an unmarried partner (who was not a parent), at 57.2 per 1,000 children (the highest rates of abuse).

Once again, the report shows a divide in America based on education or class. Americans with only a high school diploma are far more likely to cohabit than are college graduates. “The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families. Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones,” says W. Bradford Cox, director of the National Marriage Project.

Visit United Press International for details.

Do you think public education should be provided about the benefits for children who live with  married parents versus cohabiting parents? Why do you think cohabiting parents are twice as likely to split up as married parents? Do you think increased cohabitation will be a continuing trend or one that will rise and fall with different generations as divorce rates have done?

GenX Marriages: Divorce is out, marriage is in–interesting article with helpful marriage advice

Photo courtesty of by Edwin Loyola

3 responses to “Cohabitation Rates Outpace Divorce Rates

  1. I would speculate that the people most likely to cohabitate are also those more likely to split. So I don’t think there is any easy answer to that. I don’t think that simply encouraging cohabitaters to get married would change anything. The real way to solve this problem would be for people to be in committed (whether married or not) and stable relationships before having children, but there clearly is no easy way to accomplish that. Because of that, I do not think there is any point to educating people about the supposed benefits to children of married people.

    • But I wonder if people understood the risks to their future children if they would be more careful about being in a committed relationship first.

  2. I think the cohabitation issue at its root is a problem with long term commitment a desire to “hedge the bet” so to speak. But there at least the people are being honest about their issue with commitment in outwardly refusing to commit. The divorce issue shows the same problem only with a lie injected, that being “I will make this commitment to you.” It may seem a harsh estimation but I am speaking from experience. It’s a problem that needs to be addressed on an individual basis. So yes I think education does help. It may not solve. But it does help.

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