NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Kids at Risk

October 20, 2003

Civil marriages are increasing while church weddings are declining. The question is: Which type of marriage is better? The answer from family researchers: Whether couples tie the knot in a courthouse or a church is less important than that they are married while raising children.

What worries researchers who study family structures is the growing trend of couples choosing to live together outside of marriage while raising children. Divorce and out-of-wedlock birth rates leveled off years ago, but families in which parents cohabit are on a steady climb. More than 40 percent of all live-in households in 2000 included a child under 18, up from 21 percent in 1987, according to the latest U.S. Census figures.

The negative effects of cohabitation documented by numerous studies include:

  • Three out of four children born to unmarried couples see them split up before age 16, according to the National Marriage Project, a research group based at Rutgers University.
  • The impact of growing up with a single parent is well documented by research: Children are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, become sexually active and exhibit anxiety.
  • Live-in households tend to be less stable; a cohabiting partner is three times as likely to suffer depression as a married person and twice as likely to exhibit aggressive behavior.

Some critics of these trends say lifestyle decisions are none of the government's business. Others say too much emphasis is placed on married couples with children when their share of the population has dwindled to 25 percent of U.S. households.

Still, when the welfare of children is at risk, reminding adults that their lifestyle decisions do matter is a worthwhile effort, says USA Today.

Source: Editorial, "Trend to live together, not marry, puts kids at risk," USA Today, October 20, 2003.

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