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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,860
April 20, 2017
Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part I
First of two parts
By Mike McManus

 

Twice as many women now begin living with a man in cohabitation rather than in marriage, according to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Half of women began cohabiting compared to less than a quarter who married according to interviews with 12,224 women from 2006 to 2010.

Cohabitation is "kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now," says demographer Casey Coran. As a first union, 48% cohabitated with their male partner vs. only 23% of first unions that were marriage, down from 39% in 1995.

Also, cohabitation is lasting longer - 22 months is the median duration up from 13 months in 1996.

Demographers say that education plays a huge role in how these romantic relationships play out. Cohabitation is much more likely among the less educated. New data shows 70% of women without a high school degree cohabited as a first union compared with 47% of those with a college degree.

Also, cohabiting women with higher education are nearly twice as likely to transition to marriage (53%) compared only 30% for those who did not graduate from high school, asserts the NCHS study.

Frankly, the situation is much worse than these estimates suggest. In 2015 there were 8.3 million cohabiting couples, and only 2,077,000 marriages in America. Nearly three-fifths (59%) of those marrying were cohabiting, which would be 1,225,000 cohabiting couples who married.

That means more than 7,000,000 cohabiting couples did NOT marry!

The National Center for Health Statistics may have had 53% of college educated women tell the researchers that they got married, and 30% of non-high school graduates. If so, why weren't there at least 3 million cohabiting couples who married - not 1.2 million?

It is true that cohabiting has become the new norm. Barna conducted a much more rigorous scientific poll than NCHS with important insights. "The majority of American adults believe cohabitation is a good idea. Two-thirds (65%) either strongly of somewhat agree that it's a good idea to live with one's significant other before getting married compared to one-third (35%) who disagree.

However, the majority is massively mistaken. 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 will ask her to marry him. However, the man wants to cohabit for sex, shared rent and companionship - and to avoid the responsibility of marriage. When she realizes he is not serious about the relationship, she moves out. Her self-confidence is shattered, and she may be pregnant or have a child. Few men want to marry a woman with a child from another man.

Consider two important facts. First, there were more weddings in 1970 (2,159,000) than the 2,077,000 in 2015, a full 45 years later. The United States had only 203 million residents in 1970 vs. 319 million in 2014. That's a 63% decline in the marriage rate.

According to the Census, 72% of households were headed by a married couple in 1960 - but only 48% were led by married couples in 2016. Again, that's a two-thirds drop in married couples.

A major reason for this plunge is cohabitation. Between 1965 and 1970 only a tenth of couples cohabited before marriage. In fact, in 1960 there were only 430,000 cohabiting couples - but 8.3 million in 2015. That's a 19-fold increase of couples who are living together without being married.

According to Barna, of those who believe cohabiting is a good idea, 84% say the major reason to do so is to "test for compatibility."

Why hasn't the huge surge of cohabitation led to MORE marriages, rather than a two-thirds drop in the marriage rate?

The obvious answer is that people who believe cohabitation is a good test for compatibility - are flat-out wrong.

As one marriage educator put it, "You can't practice permanence."

What's the long term answer?

Organized religion has got to stand up for what it says it believes - that the best union of a man and a woman is marriage, not cohabitation.

Every pastor, priest and rabbi in America who is asked by a cohabiting couple to marry them must insist that the couple move apart for several months before the wedding.

Surely, Scripture is clear. "Flee fornication," Paul wrote to the Corinthians.

Clergy can warn them, "Couples who marry after living together are more likely to divorce. So increase your odds of a life-long marriage by separating for a few months."

____________________________________
Copyright (c) 2017 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. For previous columns go to  www.ethicsandreligion.org. Hit Search for any topic.

 

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