Health

Greatest Risk to Kids: Unmarried Parents, Living Together

| by Illinois Family Institute

A new research study concludes that cohabitation has now become the greatest threat to the welfare of children in the United States. The study, entitled "Why Marriage Matters," says that cohabitation has replaced divorce as the greatest contributor to family instability in our culture.

The study is the work of 18 family scholars working in conjunction with the Center for Marriage and Families at the University of Virginia. The researchers found that more than 40 percent of American children now spend part of their childhood in a household with unmarried parents. Forty-one percent of all births are now occurring with unwed mothers.

"In a striking turn of events, the divorce rate for married couples with children has returned almost to the levels we saw before the divorce revolution kicked in during the 1970's," says W. Bradford Wilcox, lead author of the report.

"Nevertheless, family instability is on the rise for American children as a whole. This seems in part to be because more couples are having children in cohabiting unions, which are very unstable. Overall, more adults are moving in and out of households in a relationship carousel."

Wilcox says the report finds that children in cohabiting households are more likely to suffer from a range of emotional and social problems such as drug use, depression, and dropping out of school, as compared to children in intact married families.

Researchers discovered that the breakup rate for parents with children under 12 who are cohabitating is 170 per cent higher than it is for married parents. The study also revealed that children in cohabiting households are three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused than children in intact biological married parent homes.

The study concludes that "marriage is an important public good, associated with a range of economic, health, and safety benefits." The final report states unequivocally that "the intact, biological, married family remains the Gold Standard for family life in the United States. Children are most likely to thrive economically, socially, and psychologically in this family form." [Emphasis added.]