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New research challenges three 'myths' about cohabitation

Posted February 7
Updated February 8

The World Family Map 2017 debunks three common myths about cohabitation, according to the researchers. (Deseret Photo)

Studies suggest cohabitation in the United States is more than twice as common as it was 25 years ago and American attitudes are softening toward it. But the World Family Map 2017 suggests that what people think they know about cohabitation isn't true.

People have some wrong notions about cohabitation and its impact, especially on children, says Laurie DeRose, a sociologist at Georgetown University and the director of research for the World Family Map.

She highlighted those misconceptions both in interviews last week and in a blog Monday for the Institute for Family Studies.

According to her research, here are three things about cohabitation people get wrong:

Myth: As cohabitation becomes more common, it becomes more like marriage.

Reality: That's not true for kids, DeRose says emphatically. Parents who were cohabiting when a child was born are 96 percent more likely to split up in the child's first 12 years than parents who were married at the time of birth.

Myth: Low-income families are more likely to cohabit and it's a dearth of resources, not cohabitation, that undermines stability for children.

Reality: When the Institute for Family Studies and the Social Trends Institute looked at data for the report, they found cohabitation is less stable for families than marriage in the vast majority of cases, regardless of income or the mother's education level. DeRose tells the Deseret News that cohabiters with lots of education were more likely to split than married couples with less education.

Marriage is "more powerfully" linked to stability for kids than is parental education and education is strongly associated with economic well-being, the report said.

Myth: Countries with a history of cohabitation are not impacted now by higher levels of cohabitation.

Reality: Even in European, Latin American and other countries that have long experience with and high rates of cohabitation, family life is less stable for children who live in houses where the adults cohabit than for those who live with their married biological parents.

Transitions such as forming and ending adult relationships undermine stability for kids. And stability predicts emotional, social and physical well-being of children, says co-author W. Bradford Wilcox, IFS scholar and professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

Experts believe couples are more likely to drift into having children when they cohabit, while married couples show more intention, which is better for the children and the relationship. Couples who "slide vs. decide" are more fragile and their family lives are less stable.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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