A 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 cohabitating parents and 24% by the age of 12 living with a divorced parent. In fact, the national marriage rate fell from 6.9 to 6.5 marriages per 1,000 people between 2017 and 2018, the most recently recorded year. This begs the question: is marriage in trouble?
Is a Lower Divorce Rate Really a Positive?
Upon superficial examination, a falling divorce rate could be seen as a positive sign, since divorce has long been shown to be disruptive and even traumatic to children. This could also be seen as a sign that the answer to the question “Is marriage in trouble?” is actually no.
Unfortunately, lowering divorce rates don’t necessarily bode well for all children, especially for those in unmarried families. The project’s evidence shows that unmarried couples have many challenges that married couples inherently do not; they are younger, poorer, and less educated. However, even considering these facts, it’s hard to see how co-habitation is a problem – marrying tomorrow would have no material change in their circumstances regarding these 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.
The Reality of Marriage vs. Cohabitation
My opinion? It’s 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 when unmarried, cohabitating parents have the same opportunities as their married counterparts.
Psychologically, however, marriage may provide 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.
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