Note: In this 10 part series, Richard and Linda explore various aspects of the most important institution and commitment in the history of society-Marriage. Some of the articles analyze what is happening to marriage today, while others suggest ways to strengthen marriage. Each article is headlined with a question. The series will run in Meridian for 10 consecutive days.
Why use words as negative and shocking as “Cancerous” and “Curse”?
Why? Because cohabitation (unmarried couples living together) is growing and spreading at an alarming clip and replacing the healthier cells of traditional, committed marriage. And because the statistical results of the shift are overwhelmingly negative both for children and for couples.
Of course some cases of cohabitation work out well and lead to marriage and to stable families but as the saying goes “the odds are against it.”
We are not judging, just reporting.
Consider some of the findings in the recently released study from the National Center for Health Statistics of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services-a U. S. poll of over 12,000 women between 15 and 44 years of age. 29% had not lived with a man. Of the 71% who had, 23% moved in with a man when they married him, and 48% simply cohabitated, living with a man to whom they were not married.
In other words, of all the “first unions” that occurs today in this country, more than two thirds are cohabitations, and less than one third are marriages.
Another way of saying it: More than twice as many couples initially move in together unmarried as married.
On an earlier version of the same study, done less than 20 years ago, the figures were shockingly different, with 26% who had not lived with a man, 34% who cohabitated for their first union, and 40% who married before living with someone.
So in less than two decades, the number of couples who cohabitate first has soared by nearly 40% while those who marry first has declined by more than 40%.
Those of us who worry that the gay marriage movement will re-define marriage ought to consider that it might just be a decoy to distract us from the much larger problem of cohabitation. The 50% of couples who cohabit instead of marrying will redefine and undermine marriage far more than the 2% who would practice same sex marriage.
But let’s go beyond the dramatic increases in cohabitation to some of its results and effects:
The poll found that after two to three years, roughly one third of cohabitating couples have married, one third have broken up, and one third continue to live together unmarried. And an increasing percentage (now about 21%) of cohabitating couples have a child within their first two years of living together-a child who is born to parents with a one in three chance of breaking up while the child is still a baby.
Other studies show that married couples that cohabitate prior to marriage are more likely to divorce than those that do not-some say twice as likely. So even among the third that get married after cohabitating, the chances are reduced that the marriage will last and that it will provide a stable home for a child.
Besides the immediate statistical peril to both children and couples, there are other fundamental problems with cohabitation:
- It both replaces and weakens marriage as suggested above.
- It treats a partner like a car or a vacuum cleaner that ought to be used or test-driven before it is committed to.
- It stems from “individual freedom and options” rather than from responsibility, commitment and children’s needs. Selfishness prevails over sacrifice.
- It doesn’t unite or combine families like marriage does. You don’t gain cousins, uncles, in-laws and extended families through cohabitation.
- It doesn’t build bring about resilience and reconciliation. The tendency and the impulse when things turn sour is to cut and run rather than to hang in there and resolve.
- It feeds on itself. People who have cohabitated once are more likely to do it again, and each time the chance of maintaining a long-term committed relationship goes down.