• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • Cohabitation Compounds Divorce as a Threat to America's Children

    Given the overwhelming evidence that parental divorce takes a heavy toll on children—in areas ranging from emotional well-being and academic achievement to delinquency, substance abuse, and sexual activity—the nation had cause to breathe a collective sigh of relief when data showed that the incidence of divorce has dropped steadily since peaking in 1979. In fact, today’s divorce rate is nearly as low as that of the late ’60s. But this moment in the sun has been overshadowed by a dark cloud.

    Research recently released by The National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values (the third edition of the Why Marriage Matters series) reveals that more than 40 percent of children in the country spend some portion of their lives in a household with a cohabiting parent before they are 12 years old. Twenty percent are born into such households. And the incidence of cohabitation is on the rise. Today, children are nearly twice as likely to experience parental cohabitation as parental divorce.

    As the Marriage Matters report (an analysis of federal data and more than 250 peer-reviewed journal articles) shows, compared with peers who live in the “gold standard” family structure of the intact, married family, children in cohabiting households are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional, social, and behavioral problems and less likely to succeed academically. According to government data, they are also at least three times more likely to be abused physically, sexually, or emotionally. In fact, regarding significant measures of well-being, children in cohabiting households fare worse than counterparts in single-parent families.

    Cohabiting couples are much more likely to separate than married parents. Children born to cohabiting couples are 170 percent more likely to experience a parental breakup than children born to married couples. This family instability carries dire consequences for children. Unsettling family transitions are linked to poor relationships with parents, behavioral and health problems, and school failure. There is also emerging evidence that such problems are exacerbated by the resulting (euphemistically dubbed) “complex” households in which children live with half-siblings, stepsiblings, stepparents, and people unrelated to them by birth or marriage.

    Unfortunately, the decline of the divorce rate hasn’t been accompanied by a corresponding increase in the number of intact, married families, but rather by a rise in the incidence of cohabiting households, where levels of commitment and stability are typically far lower.

    To stop this devastating trend, policymakers should earnestly pursue policies and programs that can promote and strengthen marriage and an intact family structure—the safest, most nurturing, and most prosperous environment for the next generation.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    One Response to Cohabitation Compounds Divorce as a Threat to America's Children

    1. Bill Wilson says:

      As long as there is a stated difference between a 'cohabitating couple' and a 'cohabitating family' I have no problem with this. But, as a 'cohabitor' with an opposite sex 'cohabitor' that plans on marriage (a date next summer has been set) who do not plan on having (or cannot have) children, I cannot agree with forcing 'family' values on citizens where there are no children.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.

    ×