Num­bers show co­hab­it­ing hurts

The Washington Times Weekly - - Culture, Etc. -

In Ice­land, 66 per­cent of ba­bies are born out of wed­lock. In Swe­den, it’s 55 per­cent, in Nor­way, 54 per­cent and in Den­mark, 46 per­cent. Why should Amer­i­cans care? We’re not the same cul­ture, and our un­wed birthrate is not even 40 per­cent yet.

The an­swer is that as un­wed co­hab­it­ing takes over a cul­ture, it al­ters the cul­ture in ways big and small. Co­hab­it­ing is es­ca­lat­ing in Amer­ica; do we re­ally want our cul­ture to be­come like Europe’s?

To see the big pic­ture, one must look at places where co­hab­it­ing is in­grained. So­ci­ol­o­gist David Pope­noe, for­mer codi­rec­tor of the Na­tional Mar­riage Project, did so, in a 2008 es­say.

Europe’s ac­cep­tance of co­hab­it­ing is clear, Mr. Pope­noe said in “Co­hab­i­ta­tion, Mar­riage and Child Well Be­ing.” A 2006 AC Nielsen global sur­vey, for in­stance, asked 25,000 peo­ple if they agreed with the state­ment, “I con­sider a sta­ble, long-term re­la­tion­ship just as good as mar­riage.” More than 75 per­cent of Euro­peans said yes, com­pared with 50 per­cent of Amer­i­cans.

One of the first re­sults of wide­spread co­hab­it­ing is a re­duc­tion in the mar­riage rate.

In Europe, “with non­mar­i­tal co­hab­i­ta­tion be­ing the pri­mary gen­er­at­ing fac­tor,” many na- tions’ pop­u­la­tions have gone from be­ing the most marr ied in mod­ern Euro­pean his­tory to the least mar­ried, Mr. Pope­noe said.

Co­hab­iters also are more likely than mar­ried cou­ples to en­ter and leave re­la­tion­ships, re­gard­less of the pres­ence of chil­dren. Thus, un­wed child­bear­ing and sin­gle par­ent­ing be­come more com­mon. A mas­sive 2006 Bri­tish study, for in­stance, found that nearly half of co­hab­it­ing par­ent cou­ples had split up by their child’s fifth birth­day; in Nor­way, chil­dren of co­hab­iters were found to be more than twice as likely to face parental breakup com­pared with chil­dren of mar­ried cou­ples.

Th­ese frag­mented fam­i­lies of­ten need so­cial sup­port, so wide­spread co­hab­it­ing re­in­forces the need for ex­pen­sive, gov­ern­ment (i.e., tax­payer­funded), cra­dle-to-grave wel­fare sys­tems.


Other in­ter­na­tional find­ings about co­hab­iters are that they are “less se­ri­ous” about their re­la­tion­ships, “less sat­is­fied” with their re­la­tion­ships, and more prone to do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, child abuse and lower in­comes than mar­ried cou­ples, Mr. Pope­noe noted. More­over, even with fewer mar­riages, many Euro­pean coun­tries have ris­ing di­vorce rates.

And Mr. Pope­noe hardly touched on Europe’s dis­mal fer­til­ity rates. In essence (and with co­hab­it­ing as one of many rea­sons), many Euro­pean coun­tries are looking at birth dearths. Mil- lions of Euro­pean women are hav­ing one or no ba­bies.

De­spite such un­set­tling out­comes, co­hab­it­ing is per­me­at­ing the Amer­i­can cul­ture.

Co­hab­it­ing sup­port­ers, such as John Cur­tis, au­thor of “Hap­pily Un-mar­ried, Liv­ing To­gether & Loving It,” and the Al­ter­na­tives to Mar­riage Project, de­fend co­hab­it­ing as nor­mal, mod­ern and even a right, since mar­riage isn’t suit­able for every­one. The Al­ter­na­tives to Mar­riage Project, as one might ex­pect, of­fers a bounty of pos­i­tive ad­vice, re­sources and sug­ges­tions about liv­ing to­gether.

But there is no get­ting away from the moun­tains of re­search that call for cau­tion about co­hab­it­ing.

My view is that if co­hab­it­ing is be­nign or good for cou­ples and chil­dren, all this should be re­flected in the out­comes — co­hab­it­ing adults should be fa­mous for stay­ing to­gether, hap­pily and faith­fully, rais­ing their chil­dren, pros­per­ing and grow­ing old to­gether. Think mil­lions of Goldie Hawns and Kurt Rus­sells.

In­stead, the re­al­ity of U.S. co­hab­it­ing is more fully wit­nessed in Amer­ica’s black and His­panic neigh­bor­hoods, where co­hab­it­ing has al­most fully re­placed mar­riage. Any­one who says co­hab­it­ing is not play­ing a ma­jor role in the re­peated cy­cles of poverty, an­ti­so­cial be­hav­ior and fam­ily heartache just isn’t liv­ing in the real world.

Ch­eryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwet­zstein@wash­ing­ton

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