Many people mistakenly assume that there is no difference to the well being of themselves and that of their children between cohabitation and marriage.
Four decades of social science research show that children and their parents, in general, fare better when two biological parents are married and raising their children as compared to when two biological parents are cohabiting and raising their children.
For example, domestic violence and child abuse are more likely to occur in cohabitation. Children living with their unmarried parents are more likely to do poorly in school and have an increased likelihood of suffering from emotional problems. This is partially due to to lack of stability in the cohabiting, unmarried relationships as compared to married relationships.
Following are research studies on this subject:
Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation, by Susan L. Brown © 2004 National Council on Family Relations.
Data from the 1999 National Survey of America's Families (N = 35,938) were used to examine the relationship between family structure and child well-being. I extended prior research by including children in two-biological-parent cohabiting families, as well as cohabiting stepfamilies, in an investigation of the roles of economic and parental resources on behavioral and emotional problems and school engagement. Children living in two-biological-parent cohabiting families experience worse outcomes, on average, than those residing with two biological married parents, although among children ages 6-11, economic and parental resources attenuate these differences. Among adolescents ages 12-17, parental cohabitation is negatively associated with well-being, regardless of the levels of these resources. Child well-being does not significantly differ among those in cohabiting versus married stepfamilies, two-biological-parent cohabiting families versus cohabiting stepfamilies, or either type of cohabiting family versus single-mother families.
Trends in cohabitation and implications for children s family contexts in the United States
Authors: Larry Bumpass ;Hsien-Hen Lu
Publication Frequency: 3 issues per year
Published in: Population Studies, Volume 54, Issue 1 2000 , pages 29 - 41
Subject: Economic Geography;
This paper documents increasing cohabitation in the United States, and the implications of this trend for the family lives of children. The stability of marriage-like relationships (including marriage and cohabitation) has decreased despite a constant divorce rate. Children increasingly live in cohabiting families either as a result of being born to cohabiting parents or of their mother s entry into a cohabiting union.
As a consequence, about two-fifths of all children spend some time in a cohabiting family, and the greater instability of families begun by cohabitation means that children are also more likely to experience family disruption. Estimates from multi-state life tables indicate the extent to which the family lives of children are spent increasingly in cohabiting families and decreasingly in married families.
National Estimates of Cohabitation, by Larry L. Bumpass and James A. Sweet © 1989 Population Association of America.
Multivariate analysis reveals higher rates of cohabitation among women, whites, persons who did not complete high school, and those from families who received welfare or who lived in a single-parent family while growing up.
[PDF] Marriage and Cohabitation
Marriage and Cohabitation ∗
by Ahu Gemici† and Steve Laufer‡
New York University
FIRST DRAFT: April 2009
THIS DRAFT: February 24, 2010
More importantly, empirical evidence from the NLSY 1979 cohort shows that marital stability,
labor supply, and fertility of men and women differ considerably by whether they are cohabiting
or legally married. This suggests that cohabitation constitutes a separate state of union to
marriage, either in terms of the different characteristics of couples who choose to cohabit, or as a
different institutional framework that changes the way in which partners interact.
More importantly, empirical evidence from the NLSY 1979 cohort shows that marital stability, labor supply, and fertility of men and women differ considerably by whether they are cohabiting or legally married. This suggests that cohabitation constitutes a separate state of union to marriage, either in terms of the different characteristics of couples who choose to cohabit, or as a different institutional framework that changes the way in which partners interact.
In a dynamic model of the household with limited commitment, marriage leads to equilibrium outcomes that are closer to the efficient allocation when there are gains from specialization.
in comparison to marriage, cohabitation is associated with a lower degree of household specialization, higher relationship instability, and greater degree of positive assortative mating. In other words, married women work less than single women, but that the difference between cohabiting women and single women’s labor supply is statistically insignificant. A similar analysis for men reveals that both cohabiting and married men tend to work more than single men, with married men working more than those cohabiting. Patterns of marital sorting are quite different for cohabiting unions compared to married unions. For example, in cohabiting unions partners are much more similar to each other in terms of education levels, compared to partners in married unions.1
This leads to an important feature of cohabitation, which is that it enables partners to take advantage of the benefits of living together, without the commitment that legal marriage requires. For example, Brien, Lillard and Stern (2006) show that the lower cost of separation makes co-residential relationships attractive for couples, as it gives the opportunity to hedge against future bad shocks to the relationship quality while taking advantage of benefits of living together such as joint consumption of a public good, returns to specialization, and children. However, the lack of commitment in a cohabiting relationship relative to marriage has disadvantages, as the increased chance of dissolution may prevent the couple from fully realizing some of these benefits. Therefore, the option of cohabiting rather than being married and remaining single has advantages and disadvantages relative to the other options. The second distinction is that cohabiting partners face a tax schedule that is different from married couples. Married couples are taxed based on their joint income, which, depending on the income levels, may lead to higher or lower tax payments than the two partners would pay separately. Cohabiting couples on the other hand face the same
tax schedule as single individuals do.
Life Course Transitions of American Children: Parental Cohabitation, Marriage, and Single Motherhood, by Deborah Roempke Graefe and Daniel T. Lichter © 1999 Population Association of America.
We examine the life course transitions into and from families headed by unmarried cohabiting couples for a recent cohort of American children. Life table estimates, based on data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth mother-child files, indicate about one in four children will live in a family headed by a cohabiting couple sometime during childhood. Economic uncertainty is an important factor determining whether children in single-parent families subsequently share a residence with a mother's unmarried partner. Moreover, virtually all children in cohabiting-couple families will experience rapid subsequent changes in family status. Our estimates provide a point of departure for future work on children's exposure to parental cohabitation and its social and economic implications.
Cohabitation versus Marriage: A Comparison of Relationship Quality, by Susan L. Brown and Alan Booth © 1996 National Council on Family Relations.
The quality of recently formed cohabiting and marital relationships among Black and White Americans ages 19 to 48 is investigated in an effort to advance our understanding of the meaning of cohabitation relative to marriage. Controlling for relationship duration and demographic characteristics of the respondent, we find that cohabitors in general report poorer relationship quality than their married counterparts.
The relative stability of cohabiting and marital unions for children
Wendy D. Manning1, Pamela J. Smock2 and Debarun Majumdar3
Department of Sociology & Center for Family and Demographic Research, Bowling Green State University, Ohio, USA
Department of Sociology & Population Studies Center, The University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA
Department of Sociology, Southwest Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas, USA
Abstract Children are increasingly born into cohabiting parent families, but we know little to date about the implications of this family pattern for children''s lives. We examine whether children born into premarital cohabitation and first marriages experience similar rates of parental disruption, and whether marriage among cohabiting parents enhances union stability. These issues are important because past research has linked instability in family structure with lower levels of child well-being. Drawing on the 1995 National Survey of Family Growth, we find that white, black and Hispanic children born to cohabiting parents experience greater levels of instability than children born to married parents. Moreover, black and Hispanic children whose cohabiting parents marry do not experience the same levels of family stability as those born to married parents; among white children, however, the marriage of cohabiting parents raises levels of family stability to that experienced by children born in marriage. The findings from this paper contribute to the debate about the benefits of marriage for children.
Children - Cohabitation - Divorce - Family structure - Marriage - Race and ethnicity
How Do Marriage, Cohabitation, and Single Parenthood Affect the Material Hardships of Families with Children?
Robert I. Lerman
Publication Date: July 01, 2002
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This report was prepared for the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation under HHS Grant Number 00ASPE359A.
The decline in marriage and associated two-parent families in the United States continues to complicate efforts to reduce child poverty. Although the 30-year trend away from two-parent families has slowed in recent years, the share of children living outside married couple families remains high. About one in three children live in one-parent families and nearly 40 percent live away from at least one biological parent. The negative impact on poverty and inequality is well documented. Recent estimates suggest that were marriage rates at levels of the early 1970s, the 1998 US child poverty rate would have been 3.5 percentage points lower (Thomas and Sawhill 2001), as would income inequality among children (Lerman 1996). Waite and Gallagher (2000) report a number of other positive economic and social effects of marriage.
Yet, questions have been raised about whether the economic benefits of marriage extend to low-income, less educated women. Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, reportedly argued, "To say that the path to economic stability for poor women is marriage is an outrage." (Toner 2002). The worry is that the prospective spouses of low-income women and men are themselves too poor or too limited in their earnings capacities to contribute significantly to the family's resources (see Edin 2000). While the lack of a second earner complicates the economic problems of less educated mothers, another adult with zero or low earnings would hardly be a solution. On the other hand, a second earner or caregiver need only provide about $2,000-$3,700 in earnings in order to offset the increase in family needs required by an additional person.1
The focus of much of the discussion about the economic benefits of marriage is on the distinction between married couple families and single parent families. Yet, as some authors emphasized decades ago (e.g., Stack and Simmel, 1974), low-income single parents are often able to draw on other family members for support, either formally or informally. The presence of other adults could, in principle, limit the advantages of marriage associated with economies of scale in household production, with the division of labor and risk sharing among adults (Lerman 2002). If so, the economic benefits from marriage could be modest or zero relative to such family forms as cohabitation or single parenthood with other adults present in the household.
A second issue arising in estimating the gains from marriage among adults with low earnings capacities is that income, even income relative to needs, may be a weak measure of economic well being. Current income relative to needs does not take account of permanent income, income variability, wealth accumulation, or the ability to draw on resources of relatives and friends. Broader measures of economic well being may be of special importance to low-income families trying to avoid material hardships. As Mayer and Jencks (1989) demonstrated, income poverty offers only part of the explanation for the experience of material hardships. Some families may manage their budgets better than others. Measured income may understate actual income and the ability to consume, particularly for low-income families. While some poor families are experiencing material hardships, other equally poor families are able to avoid these problems by drawing on assets or on help from friends.
Marriage might well offer families a better chance for asset building and transfers from friends and family. Hao (1996) points to the less extensive networks available to mothers with cohabiting partners and to single parents who receive little from the kin of non-custodial fathers. Hao finds that while single parents and cohabiting couples are less likely to receive transfers from the kin of the absent biological parent, they are more likely to obtain transfers from friends. Apparently, the higher transfers to married couples encourage wealth accumulation and add to the wealth advantage married couples have over cohabiting couples and single parents.
In a recent paper (Lerman 2001), I examined the economic role of marriage, while taking account of the complexity of household forms and using direct measures of hardship as well as income and poverty measures. The analysis used information on family and household relationships and on material hardship from the National Survey of America's Families (NSAF). Results based on tabulations and multivariate analyses showed that even among the poor, material hardships were substantially lower among married couple families with children than among other families with children, including those with at least two potential earners. Moreover, the size of the marriage impacts was quite large, generally higher than the effects of education. The impacts were particularly high among non-Hispanic black families. Reductions in material hardship associated with marriage emerged not only relative to one-parent families with no adult present, but also relative to cohabiting parents and to one-parent families with other adults present.
Family Structure, Private Transfers,
and the Economic Well-Being of Families
with Children *
LINGXIN HAO, University of Iowa
This study examines the relationship between family structure, private transfers, and the economic well-being of families with children under 18. We use family wealth as a measure of economic well-being to mitigate some of the criticisms of traditional measures based on income. We examine family structure beyond marital status to include remarriage, cohabitation, and the gender of single parenthood. We focus on financial transfers from both kin and nonkin. After analyzing the distribution of family wealth and transfers by family structure, we estimate the effects of family structure, transfers, and their interaction on family wealth. Drawing on data from the National Survey of Families and Households (1987-88), we find that (1) family net wealth and total private transfers vary with family structure along three lines, marriage-remarriage, marriage- cohabitation, and male-female single parenthood, (2) marriage is a wealth-enhancing institution; (3) private transfers promote family net wealth; and (4) marriage reinforces the promoting effect of private transfers on family wealth.
Economic well-being of families with children is an important factor affecting children's outcomes. The theory of human capital suggests that greater permanent income of parents increases their investment in children's quality ( Becker 1981; Becker & Lewis 1974). Research on poverty has provided much evidence that poverty has serious consequences for child development. Children who live in poverty, especially persistent poverty, suffer significant disadvantag- es in physical and mental development and socioeconomic attainment when they reach adulthood. They have relatively high mortality rates ( Mare 1982), poor nutritional status ( Miller & Korenman 1993), impaired cognitive develop- ment ( Korenman, Miller & Sjaastad 1993), disturbed cognitive and socio- emotional development ( Hao 1995), and low socioeconomic attainment in adulthood ( Duncan 1991).
Annual Review of Sociology
Vol. 23: 121-145 (Volume publication date August 1997)
Poverty and Inequality Among Children
Daniel T. Lichter
Department of Sociology, Pennsylvania State University, 601 Oswald Tower, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802; e-mail: Lichter@pop.psu.edu
The deteriorating economic well-being of children portends less well-adjusted adults and a diminished economic future for America. A disproportionate share of today's poor children will become tomorrow's poor adults. This chapter discusses the concept, definition, and measurement of children's economic well-being and poverty. Children's current economic well-being is evaluated in comparative perspective—international, historical, and demographic. The chapter also evaluates the etiology of changes in children's absolute and relative economic well-being, focusing especially on the role of the changing family, parental employment, and levels of social provision for poor families. These “causes” are then evaluated in the context of recent public policy debates, including the devolution of federal welfare programs to the states.
The Impact of Family Formation Change on the Cognitive, Social, and Emotional Well-Being of the Next Generation, by Paul R. Amato © 2005 Princeton University.
How have recent changes in U.S. family structure affected the cognitive, social, and emotional well-being of the nation's children? Paul Amato examines the effects of family formation on children and evaluates whether current marriage-promotion programs are likely to meet children's needs. Amato begins by investigating how children in households with both biological parents differ from children in households with only one biological parent. He shows that children growing up with two continuously married parents are less likely to experience a wide range of cognitive, emotional, and social problems, not only during childhood but also in adulthood. Although it is not possible to demonstrate that family structure causes these differences, studies using a variety of sophisticated statistical methods suggest that this is the case. Amato then asks what accounts for the differences between these two groups of children. He shows that compared with other children, those who grow up in stable, two-parent families have a higher standard of living, receive more effective parenting, experience more cooperative co-parenting, are emotionally closer to both parents, and are subjected to fewer stressful events and circumstances. Finally, Amato assesses how current marriage-promotion policies will affect the well-being of children. He finds that interventions that increase the share of children who grow up with both parents would improve the overall well-being of U.S. children only modestly, because children's social or emotional problems have many causes, of which family structure is but one. But interventions that lower only modestly the overall share of U.S. children experiencing various problems could nevertheless lower substantially the number of children experiencing them. Even a small decline in percentages, when multiplied by the many children in the population, is a substantial social benefit.