The results of a major study on American family life were released this week detailing the joint research of scholars representing 18 different universities.
Their major conclusion: cohabiting couples are causing family instability for children in American households to steadily increase.
Here are some quick facts from the study:
- Divorces involving children have largely returned to pre-Divorce Revolution levels. Specifically, about 23% of children whose parents married in the early 1960s divorced by the time the children turned 10. More recently, slightly more than 23% of children whose parents married in 1997 divorced by the time the kids turned 10.
- Family instability for U.S. children overall continues to increase. The data shows that 66% of 16-year-olds were living with both parents in the early 1980s, compared to just 55% of 16-year-olds in the early 2000s. This shift is linked to more children being born outside of marriage—especially to cohabiting couples—and the fact that these nonmarital unions are overall much less stable.
- Cohabitation is playing a growing role in children’s lives. Children are now more likely to be exposed to a cohabiting union than to a parental divorce. The report indicates that 24% of kids born to married parents will see their own parents divorce or separate by age 12, while 42% of kids will experience a parental cohabitation by age 12.
- Children born to cohabiting unions are much more likely to experience a parental breakup compared to children born to married couples. In the U.S., the report finds that the breakup rate is 170% higher for children born to cohabiting couples up to age 12. Even in Sweden, children born to cohabiting couples are 70% more likely to see parents separate by age 15, compared to children born to married parents.
- Not only is cohabitation less stable, it is more dangerous for children. Federal data shows that children are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused in cohabiting households, compared to children in intact, biological married parent homes. They are also significantly more likely to experience delinquency, drug use, and school failure.
Three conclusions regarding marriage and families in America today:
- The intact, biological, married family remains the Gold Standard for family life in the United States. Children are most likely to thrive, economically, socially, and psychologically, in this family form.
- Marriage is an important public good, associated with a range of economic, health, educational, and safety benefits that help local, state, and federal governments serve the common good.
- The benefits of marriage extend to poor, working class, and minority communities, despite the fact that marriage has weakened in these communities in the last four decades.
A detailed record of these findings can be found in the newly updated book Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, and could be helpful for church leaders in responsibly shepherding their people through this issue (download a summary here).
If you’re going to live with one another, commit to one another.
Adults simply should not play house.