Thursday, 01 December 2011 09:42
By the USCCB
Couples in a cohabiting relationship and who come to the Church for marriage preparation represent only a percentage of the total cohabiting population. Here are highlights of what social science has discovered about cohabitation in general and with specific reference to cohabiting couples who eventually marry.
Slightly more than half of couples in first-time cohabitations ever marry; the overall percentage of those who marry is much lower when it includes those who cohabit more than once.
Cohabitation as a permanent or temporary alternative to marriage is a major factor in the declining centrality of marriage in family structure. It is a phenomenon altering the face of family life in first-world countries.
Here are some facts:
• Eleven percent of couples in the United States cohabited from 1965 to 1974; today, a little over half of all first marriages are preceded by cohabitation. (Bumpass & Lu, 1998; Popenoe and Whitehead, 1999)
• Across all age groups there has been a 45 percent increase in cohabitation from 1970 to 1990. It is estimated that 60 percent to 80 percent of the couples coming to be married are cohabiting. (US Bureau of the Census, 1995; Bumpass, Cherlin & Sweet, 1991)
• Overall, fewer persons are choosing to be married today; the decision to cohabit as a permanent or temporary alternative to marriage is a primary reason. (Bumpass, NSFH Paper #66, 1995)
• The percent of couples being married in the United States declined 25 percent from 1975 to 1995. The Official Catholic Directory reported 406,908 couples married in the Catholic Church in 1974; in 1995, it reported a 25 percent decline to 305,385 couples.
• Only 53 percent of first cohabiting unions result in marriage. The percentage of couples marrying from second and third cohabitations is even lower. (Bumpass & Lu, 1998; Bumpass, 1990; Wu, 1995; Wineberg & McCarthy, 1998)
• All first-world countries are experiencing the phenomenon of cohabitation and the corrosive impact it has on marriage as the center of family. (Bumpass, NSFH paper #66, 1995; Hall & Zhao, 1995; Thomasson, 1998; Haskey and Kiernan, 1989)
Cohabitation: more facts
1. Cohabitation is growing: 35 to 40 years ago cohabitation was rare; it was socially taboo. Growth by decade was: 1960s (up 19 percent), 1970s (up 204 percent), 1980s (up 80 percent), 1990s (up 66 percent), but up only 7.7 percent between 2000 and 2004.
All told, cohabitation is up eleven-fold (U.S. Census Bureau, “Unmarried-Couple Households, by Presence of Children: 1960 to Present,” Table UC-1, June 12, 2003).
2. Relationships are unstable: One-sixth of cohabiting couples stay together for only three years; one in ten survives five or more years (Bennett, W.J., The Broken Hearth: Reversing the Moral Collapse of the American Family, 2001).
3. Greater risk of divorce: The rate of divorce among those who cohabit prior to marriage is nearly double (39 percent vs. 21 percent) that of couples who marry without prior cohabitation (ibid.).
4. Women suffer disproportionately: Cohabiting women often end up with the responsibilities of marriage – particularly when it comes to caring for children – without the legal protection (ibid.), while contributing more than 70 percent of the relationship’s income (Crouse, J.C., “Cohabitation: Consequences for Mothers and Children,” presentation at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Oct. 11-14, 2004, U.N. Tenth Anniversary of the International Year of the Family).
Reprinted from the New Oxford Review. Full article online.