A group of family researchers in the United States is suggesting cohabitation instead of marriage is detrimental for the kids, in a new report out this week.
In it, the National Marriage Project and the Institute for American Values suggest cohabitation has replaced divorce as the great destabilizer.
Divorce has dropped to early-1960s rates at about 24 per cent. Forty-two per cent of kids now experience a parental cohabitation by age 12, according to a release on the study.
But the breakup rate for those kids is 170 per cent higher for children born to cohabiting couples. The report used recent data from the U.S. census and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
National Public Radio points out that the iconic 1979 movie of the divorce revolution, Kramer vs. Kramer, is no longer emblematic of the drama facing families today.
"It'd be Kramer vs. Kramer vs. Johnson and Nelson," Brad Wilcox, of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia told NPR.
"We're moving into a pattern where we're seeing more instability, more adults moving in and out of the household in this relationship carousel."
Prof. Wilcox and his colleagues say research "shows the children of cohabiting parents are at risk for a broad range of problems, from trouble in school to psychological stress, physical abuse and poverty," reports NPR.
But which came first, the risks or the decision not to marry?
Marriage historian Stephanie Coontz told NPR that the issue is complicated.
Prof. Coontz, who teaches family studies at Evergreen State College in Washington state and is research director for the Council on Contemporary Families, "says people are more likely to get married if they have the things that make a union strong: mutual respect, problem-solving skills and especially — economic security," reports NPR.
She adds that lower-income Americans are much less likely to wed.
"Cohabitation and out-of-wedlock childbearing is as much a symptom of the instability of children's lives as it is a cause of it," Prof. Coontz told NPR.
Prof. Wilcox said as much to the New York Times.
"There's a two-family model emerging in American life," said Prof. Wilcox. "The educated and affluent enjoy relatively strong, stable families. Everyone else is more likely to be consigned to unstable, unworkable ones."
And yet, as the NPR piece points out, cohabiting partners in some European countries are more stable than in the U.S.
Are you surprised to hear that cohabitation may be risky for families?