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Ethics & Religion
Column #1,960
March 14, 2019
Cohabitation: A Risky Business
By Mike McManus

As spring arrives, romance is in the air. But be careful. Avoid the temptation to live together. Three-quarters of both adults and young people think cohabitation is a good way to "test the relationship."

But unmarried couples cannot practice permanence.

In 2018 about 8.5 million couples cohabited, but only 1.3 million married. What happened to the other 7.2 million couples?

They broke up, or will soon do so.

True, two-thirds of those who married are living together. However, couples who cohabited before marriage are 61% more likely to divorce than those who waited until marriage to move in together.

What's more, soaring cohabitation has sharply reduced the number of people who marry. There were more weddings in 1970 (2,159,000) than in 2015 (2,077,000)! If the same percentage of couples were marrying now as in 1970 there would be 1.3 million more marriages a year!

To put it differently, 72% of American households were headed by married couples in 1960. Today that figure is only 48%.
One sad result: the number of never-married Americans has nearly quintupled from 8.7 million in 1970 - to 41.3 million never-married in 2015.

My wife and I wrote a book on cohabitation: Living Together: Myths, Risks & Answers. One myth, widely believed by women, is that if she moves in with him, he will see how wonderful she is and will ask her to marry him. Not true. We report that men cohabit to avoid marriage. They want sex, shared rent and companionship - without responsibility. When she finally realizes he is not committed, she moves out.

We wrote "Living in a marriage is an investment. In cohabitation it is a gamble."

"Cohabitation is conditional. Marriage is based on permanence."

The American College of Pediatricians warns that cohabitation - rather than being a stepping stone to marriage "makes couples more likely to break up and more likely to divorce if they marry."

"Partners who cohabit are more likely to be unfaithful than married spouses and are more likely to be violent toward the other partner." They cited studies reporting that severe violence is "nearly four times higher among cohabiters than among those married."

Yet 39% of cohabiting couples have children - virtually the same as the 40% of married couples who do so. Children of cohabiting couples fare poorly in America. The Institute for Family Studies conducted a recent world study which found that "children born to cohabiting parents in Europe and the United States are about 90% more likely to see their parents break up, compared to children born to married parents," according to the Institute's senior fellow, W. Bradford Wilcox.

He estimates that 2.5 million kids are living with cohabiting parents in the U.S. That figure has soared 12-fold since the 1970s. In fact, cohabitation has become so widespread that American children are more likely to experience cohabitation than divorce!

The 40% unwed birth rate in America is 20 times higher than the 2% rate in Japan. And The U.S. divorce rate is twice that of Japan and other Asian countries. No wonder U.S. kids score only 487 on international math tests vs. 540-600 by Asian kids.

What can be done to strengthen marriage in America? I have two suggestions.

First, clergy should preach on the dangers of cohabitation and the importance of marriage. Have you ever heard a sermon on these issues? I bet not. Urge your pastor to preach against cohabitation and in support of marriage. He should also be encouraged to bring the issue up with the state leaders of his denomination - and with his seminary. I do not know of one seminary in America teaching pastors how to make marriage work.

Second, state laws need to be changed to support marriage and discourage cohabitation. At present, if a cohabiting woman has a child, she collects about $25,000 in welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. - as if she were raising the child as a single woman. Yet she had the benefit of her partner's income as if married.

Law must be changed so no cohabiting woman can collect benefits for having an unwed birth. On the other hand, if a cohabiting couple with a child marries - she loses the $25,000. So few marry.

Two changes are needed. No cohabiting woman who has a baby should get federal benefits. However, let's change the law so a cohabiting couple who already has children who marries - would not lose any benefits for two years, after which it would taper off.

Let's restore marriage in America.


Copyright (c) 2018 Michael J. McManus, President of Marriage Savers and a syndicated columnist. To read past columns, go to Hit Search for any topic.


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