A recent study by the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia has found that for the first time in the United States, children are more likely to be living with two biological parents who have never married than with a divorced parent, with 42% of children by the age of 12 having lived with a cohabitating parents and 24% by the age of 12 living with a divorced parent.
Since the divorce rate is falling, this could on superficial examination be seen as a positive sign, since divorce has long been shown to be disruptive and even traumatic to children. Unfortunately, lowering divorce rates might not bode well for children of unmarried families. If for no other reason, the project’s evidence shows the unmarried couples have many challenges that married couples inherently do not; they are younger, poorer, and less educated. Given that though, it is hard to see how co-habitation is that problem- marrying tomorrow would have no material change in their circumstances regarding those socio-economic challenges.
The report goes on to argue that children of cohabitating couples tend to perform worse academically, have more psychological problems, and be more likely to experience delinquency and drug abuse. The report does state that the children of cohabitating couples do better than children of divorce.
My opinion? It is complicated. It may have much to do with unmarried couples simply not having access to resources that encourage stable, well-adjusted children. It would be interesting to see how children fare where the unmarried, cohabitating parents have the same opportunities as their married counterparts.
Psychologically however, marriage may provide a tremendous unseen benefits to couples and families. Study after study shows that married people tend to be happier, have greater longevity, and improved health. Perhaps the secure attachment of knowing that a partner cannot simply pick up and leave, with marriage being an often religious and certainly legal contact, is the glue that keeps people together when things are difficult.
It is important to invest in a relationship, whether there is co-habitation or marriage. I am a marriage counseling specialist based in Newport Beach, CA. If you are interested in couples counseling or psychotherapy in Irvine or Orange County, please contact me at (949) 251-8797.