In a world in which cohabitation has become increasingly popular, it turns out that marriage is still, without a doubt, the societal system most deeply associated with “family stability,” according to a new analysis.
The liberal-leaning Brookings Institute recently published a report titled, “The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe,” through the Social Trends Institute and the Institute for Family Studies, finding that co-habitating parents are much more likely to split up than are married couples.
It’s a paradigm that could be seen as quite problematic, considering the report’s claim that family structures are changing around the globe, with marriage becoming “less common.”
Still, the report indicates that in most countries today the majority of kids under 18 do live with two parents. But while this is the case, increased cohabitation could certainly have an impact on familial stability.
“Almost half of cohabiting college-educated mothers will break up with their partner before their child turns 12, compared to less than one-fifth of mothers who were married when the child was born,” wrote W. Bradford Wilcox and Laurie DeRose in a memo explaining the study.
The executive summary has more about this overarching paradigm:
These findings are echoed in our country-level analysis that used data from across the globe. Although we did not have the data to relate partnership context at birth with subsequent family transitions for individual children outside the United States and Europe, we nonetheless show that a rise in the proportion of all births to cohabiting couples is associated with a later rise in the proportion of children living apart from at least one of their biological parents across 68 countries. Proportions born to single mothers are more strongly associated with later living arrangements than proportions born to cohabiting couples. Thus the retreat from marriage seems to decrease family stability for children in a wide variety of social contexts.
And it turns out that in the U.S. and Europe this paradigm isn’t all that different, with researchers finding that co-habitation simply isn’t as stable for children as is the institution of marriage. In Europe, for instance, kids are 90 percent more likely to see their co-habitating parents split than are kids from married families.
In fact, the study found that marriage was more important than education to family stability, according to Wilcox and DeRose.
“Our results suggest that there is something about marriage per se that bolsters stability,” the researchers wrote. “It could be the elaborate ritual marking the entry into marriage; the norms of commitment, fidelity, and permanence associated with the institution; the distinctive treatment of family and friends extended to married couples; or, most likely, a combination of all these things and more—that promotes greater commitment and stability.”
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