Cohabiting Parents and the Effects on Children

A recent report from the Institution for America Values shows the increase of unmarried parents and the effects it has on children.

In the second half of the twentieth century, divorce was the event most likely to undercut the quality and stability of children’s family lives.

But not any more. Divorce rates have come down since peaking in the early 1980s. Children who are now born to married couples are actually more likely to grow up with both of their parents than children who were born at the height of the divorce revolution of the 70-80's.

Today, the rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives. In fact, because of the growing prevalence of cohabitation, which has risen fourteen-fold since 1970, today’s children are much more likely to spend time in a cohabiting household than they are to see their parents divorce.

Now, approximately 24 percent of the nation’s children are born to cohabiting couples, which means that more children are currently born to cohabiting couples than to single mothers. Another 20 percent or so of children spend time in a cohabiting household with an unrelated adult at some point later in their childhood, often after their parents’ marriage breaks down. This means that more than four in ten children are exposed to a cohabiting relationship.

Children are less likely to thrive in cohabiting households, compared to intact, married families. On many social, educational, and psychological outcomes, children in cohabiting households do significantly worse than children in intact, married families, and about as poorly as children living in single-parent families. And when it comes to abuse, recent federal data indicate that children in cohabiting households are markedly more likely to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused than children in both intact, married families and single-parent families

Family instability is generally bad for children. In recent years, family scholars have turned their attention to the impact that transitions into and out of marriage, cohabitation, and single parenthood have upon children. This report shows that such transitions, especially multiple transitions, are linked to higher reports of school failure, behavioral problems, drug use, and loneliness, among other outcomes.  And the research indicates that children who are born to married parents are the least likely to be exposed to family instability, and to the risks instability poses to the emotional, social, and educational welfare of children.

Cohabiting couples who have a child together are more than twice as likely to break up before their child turns twelve, compared to couples who are married to one another. Thus, one of the major reasons that children’s lives are increasingly turbulent is that more and more children are being born into or raised in cohabiting households that are much more fragile than married families.

Children in cohabiting families are 4 times more likely to experience serious emotional problems compared to children in families headed by married biological or adoptive parents.

God's plan for the intact, biological, married family remains the gold standard for family life. Children are most likely to thrive—economically, socially, and psychologically— in this family form.

Tomorrow I will talk about how to effectively minister to children and parents who are living in a cohabiting household.

Posted by Dale Hudson