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April 8, 2015
Column #1,754
Pediatricians Warn Against Cohabitation
By Mike McManus

The American College of Pediatricians warns that “Research shows that, rather than serving as a stepping stone to a healthy marriage, living together before marriage (cohabitation) makes couples more likely to break up and more likely to divorce if they do marry.”

“Partners who cohabitate are more likely to be unfaithful than married spouses and are more likely to be violent toward the other partner.”

The studies cited as evidence are eye-popping. Severe violence is “nearly four times higher among cohabiters than among those married.” Worse, “Women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.”

Those who live together before marriage are 50% more likely to divorce than those who remained apart until the wedding. “Nor did the risk decline as cohabitation became more socially acceptable” in recent decades.

In fact, one study reported that divorce or separation was twice as likely for those who lived together before marrying – 40% vs. 20% for those who did not first cohabit.

My wife and I wrote a book on this issue, Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. One myth, widely believed by women is that if she moves in with him, he’s likely to see how wonderful she is and ask for her hand in marriage. Not true. We report that men cohabit to avoid marriage. They want sex, shared rent and companionship – without responsibility. When she sees he is not committed, she moves out, after only 15 months on average.

Pediatricians report that women who cohabit are “less likely to marry” than those who played by the traditional rules. And the situation has grown worse with time. In the 1970s, about 60% of cohabitations led to marriage, but only 33% in the 1990s, they report.

It is worse today. Last year 7.9 million couples were cohabitating. It is true that two-thirds of those who married were living together. But there were only 2.2 million marriages last year, so only 1.4 million cohabiting couples married. That’s only 17% of cohabiting couples.

Dismal odds. Yet two-thirds of those aged 15-19 believe cohabitation is a good idea, according their report, entitled Cohabitation.

What can be done?

Pediatricians urge “parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage.” Surely, the church must do so as well. Yet have you ever heard a sermon, warning of the dangers of cohabitation? I bet not. I have asked hundreds of pastors in scores of cities, “How many of you have preached a sermon on cohabitation?” One hand in 50 goes up.

Therefore, I suggest that readers give a copy of this column to your pastor and urge him to preach on this crucial issue. There are few cohabiting couples in church, but many parents of adult cohabiting children, who do not know what to say to them.

There is also a financial reason behind soaring cohabitation. Your government is paying unwed couples to have babies. When an unwed woman gives birth, she’s automatically eligible for Medicaid, welfare, food stamps, etc. that is worth about $25,000 a year. That is reasonable for the woman who will be bringing up the child alone.

However, a cohabiting unwed mother has the benefit of her partner’s income as if she were married. I have called for “Cohabitation Reform,” that would halt that practice. What makes the situation worse is that if the cohabiting couple with a child marries – they lose most of the $25,000 of goodies.

“Uncle Sugar” gets what he pays for - marriage rates have plunged 57%, unwed births are up 8-fold from 5% of all births to 41%, and government costs are soaring.

However, a governor could change the rules. He could say, “We will limit these benefits to unwed mothers raising a child alone, and will no longer give them to new cohabiting mothers.”

What about the 3.1 million cohabiting couples who already have a child?

He could say, “We in this state believe in marriage, and want to encourage cohabiting couples with children to marry – which is in the best interest of the child and parents. Therefore, if the couple marries, we will not cut their benefits for two years, and then taper them off over three more years. Studies show that married couples earn $42,000 more than cohabiting couples, so in time subsidies are not needed.

“This is a strategy to increase our marriage rate, reduce unwed births – and save taxpayers hundreds of millions.

“In Cohabitation Reform, everyone is a winner.”

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