Blog Post

Study: Rising Cohabitation Rates Putting More Children at Risk

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist An analysis of over 250 peer-reviewed journal articles on marriage and family has found that the divorce rate is down but cohabitation rates continue to rise, putting more children at risk than ever before. The Catholic News Agency (CNA) is reporting that the new study, conducted by Prof. W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia for the American Values' Center for Marriage and Families, looked at 250 peer-reviewed journal articles about marriage and family and found some encouraging as well as alarming trends in the makeup of the American family. “In a striking turn of events, the divorce rate for married couples with children has returned almost to the levels we saw before the divorce revolution kicked in during the 1970s,” said Prof. Wilcox. “Nevertheless, family instability is on the rise for American children as a whole. This seems in part to be because more couples are having children in cohabiting unions, which are very unstable.” The study found that more than 40 percent of U.S. children now spend time in a cohabiting household where they are much more likely to experience a parental breakup than children of married couples. The breakup rate in the U.S. for cohabiting couples with children is 170 percent higher for children up to the age of 12 than married couples. Unfortunately, children in cohabiting households are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused, compared to children from intact marriages between their biological parents. They are also known to suffer from a wide range of emotional and social problems such as drug use, depression, and dropping out of school. “(W)hether we succeed or fail in building a healthy marriage culture is clearly a matter of legitimate public concern and an issue of paramount importance if we wish to reverse the marginalization of the most vulnerable members of our society: the working class, the poor, minorities, and children,” the report’s executive summary said. Another interesting find is that family stability is very much connected to class. For instance, children from college-educated homes have seen their family lives stabilize, while children from less-educated homes have seen their lives become increasingly unstable. The highly affluent enjoy “strong and stable” families while others face “increasingly unstable, unhappy and unworkable ones.” However, the study also found that the benefits of marriage extend equally to poor, working class and minority communities.  The authors concluded that an intact marriage between biological parents remains the “gold standard” for family life in the U.S. “Children are most likely to thrive, economically, socially, and psychologically, in this family form,” the Institute for American Values said in an Aug. 16 statement. Marriage is “an important public good” with a range of economic, health, educational and safety benefits that help all levels of government serve the common good. “(T)he rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s lives in today’s families,” the Institute said. © All Rights Reserved, Living His Life Abundantly®/Women of Grace®