We’re currently in the midst of National Marriage Week (Feb. 7-14), a yearly celebration that recognizes the importance of this most basic human institution.
We’re also living in an age where cohabitation rates are increasing, in part because our culture increasingly doesn’t value the importance of God’s sacred and foundational gift to men and women.
Too many couples simply don’t see the value in getting married. To them, “marriage is just a piece of paper.” From their vantage point, marriage doesn’t bring any added benefits as long as they’re “secure” in their relationship. Living together, they contend, without the formal legal ties, is also liberating and better for everyone.
But what does the research say?
A new study disproves three commonly held myths about cohabitation and affirms the value of marital commitment.
The 2017 World Family Map’s main essay, “The Cohabitation-Go-Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability Across the Globe,” compares the family stability of children born to cohabiting couples to those born to married couples. It spans 12 years and more than 60 countries.
The big finding is that marriage matters greatly to children because it helps provide the stability that experts agree children desperately need to thrive. Kids suffer in a myriad of ways when mom and dad break up.
And this study confirms that cohabitation provides children with significantly less stability.
“In the U.S. and 17 European countries, children born to cohabiting couples are 96 percent more likely to see their parents split by the time they are 12, compared to those who were born to married couples,” summarized an article in The Deseret News on the study (emphasis mine).
As noted earlier, the study also disproved three commonly held myths about cohabitation, according to one of the study’s lead authors, Dr. Laurie DeRose. Here they are:
Myth 1: Cohabitation is less stable just because poorer people are more likely to choose it.
To address the issue of how family economics might influence stability, researchers looked at the mother’s education level – low, medium and high – in the families they studied. They found that “children have more stable family lives when born within marriage regardless of their mother’s education background.”
In fact, DeRose reports they found “in the overwhelming majority of countries, the most educated cohabiting parents still have a far higher rate of break-up than the lowest educated married couples.”
Myth 2: Cohabitation becomes more similar to marriage as it becomes more widespread.
Researchers found that the increasing frequency of cohabitation as a family structure did not make it more similar to marriage in terms of stability for children. While the “stability advantage” of marriage varies country-to-country, marriage provided more stability for children even in countries where cohabiting births were part of the norm.
“In more than 60 countries, we see that the rise in cohabitation is linked to an increase in family instability for children,” IFS senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox, study co-author and sociology professor at the University of Virginia, told Deseret News. “It suggests there’s something about marriage as an institution that signals commitment.”
Myth 3: Where cohabitation has been a long-standing alternative to marriage, further growth of the institution will not affect children’s lives.
Scholars who study Latin America and the Caribbean note the region has a “dual nuptiality system” where marriage and cohabitation coexist as “alternatives for life-long unions.”
But, even there, marriage sets itself apart.
“Relative stability doesn’t vary much. Cohabitation is twice as fragile as marriage; it’s much more uniform than you would expect. Even in Latin America, where cohabitation coexists alongside marriage and is a longstanding cultural alternative, it’s still more fragile,” DeRose told the Deseret News.
These findings only add to the mountains of social science research over decades that prove that marriage matters. It matters to children, as we’ve seen here.
It also matters to women – married women have such a large advantage over those who are cohabiting that marriage has been called “a feminist institution.” Focus marriage expert Glenn Stanton further fleshes out this thinking in his book, “The Ring Makes All the Difference.”
And just this week, additional research has emerged showing how marriage benefits men. The benefits are substantial by every conceivable measure, including greater financial well-being, higher quality of sexual life, and significantly better physical and mental health outcomes.
Finally, as I explain in my most recent book, “Marriage Done Right,” marriage benefits society as a whole.
So during National Marriage Week, won’t you help us spread the good news that God’s design for family formation – marriage – is far superior than any manmade alternative?
You can do this by sharing about the beauty and benefits of marriage by working hard on your own and supporting those around you.
I’d like to hear from you. How have you strengthened your marriage? Do you have adult children who don’t see the value in marriage? Let me know in the comments section, below.