A recent study released by the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values found that although divorce used to be the biggest threat to marriage in the United States in years past, cohabiting households represent the largest threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives in the United States today. The report shows that an increasing number of U.S. couples are deciding to have children without being married and that decision places those children at risk for physical, emotional, financial, and other social problems.
Data from the National Survey of Family Growth compiled by the federal Centers for Disease Control concurs with its own finding that for children age 12, 42% lived with co-habiting parents, while just 24% lived with divorced parents. The National Marriage Project statistics also showed that more children are born to cohabiting mothers than to single mothers and an addition 20% will live with a cohabiting parent later in their childhood. After the numbers are tallied, four kids out of ten are exposed to cohabitation at some point in their childhood.
Not only does the research show that cohabiting couples are twice as likely to break up as married couples, the instability can also have major negative impacts on the kids of those relationships. Children of cohabiting couples are at greater risk of more aggression and more depression than children of married couples. Other studies have shown that children of cohabiting parents are more likely to face emotional and social problems like drug abuse, dropping out of school, physical and sexual abuse, and poverty.
Dr. W. Bradford Wilcox of the National Marriage Project and the study’s lead author observed that there is now a two-family model emerging in American life when he said “The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families. Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones.” The study’s authors maintained that an intact marriage between a child’s biological parents is necessary for successful families and that the benefits of extend to poor, working-class, and minority communities, despite the fact that marriage has weakened in those communities in the last forty years. Sounding somewhat ominous, the study concluded that whether society succeeds or fails in building a culture of healthy marriage is a public concern of great importance if this society is going to be able to reverse the marginalization of the most vulnerable members of our society: the working class, the poor, minorities, and children.