An increasing number of couples in the United States are choosing to cohabit as a prequel to or replacement for marriage. This can have some dire consequences for the romantic couple or any children involved, argued Mike McManus at a recent Family Research Council event. McManus is the Co-Chair of Marriage Savers. He and his wife of over forty years recently co-authored Living Together: Myths, Risks and Answers.
“So, as I see it the central issue of America actually is the disintegration of marriage,” argued McManus. “Divorces have tripled, the marriage rate’s down 54%, cohabitation is up seventeen-fold, and so only 46% of teens are living with their married parents.”
Children living in homes where the parents are cohabiting have higher rates of juvenile delinquency and physical abuse, he said.
McManus outlined four myths that couples living together face. First, they oftentimes believe that their time together is a “trial marriage.” McManus called this instead a “trial divorce.”
“Actually, couples who cohabit are in a trial divorce because there’s a 90% chance they’re either gonna break up before there’s a wedding or afterward in divorce,” he said.
The second myth was that the couple couldn’t afford to live apart. Each person could simply live with another member of the same gender, he argued.
McManus also argued that it’s a myth that cohabitation is a person’s private business because, he said, the government picks up the tab for children born out of wedlock. As I recently noted in “Marital Have-Nots?” the New York Times reported that “Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.” Class is driving this issue, argued Jason DeParle in the article for the New York Times.
McManus added more detail, saying that it’s almost the same percentage of married and unmarried couples who live with their children: “… 46% of couples who are married are living with children as minors and 41% of unmarried couples who are cohabiting have children.”
Fourthly, McManus argued that it’s a myth that the cohabiting couple is in a committed relationship. “No, the only committed relationship is marriage,” he argued. He suggested that communities come together with a community marriage policy to decrease cohabiting rates and boost marriage rates. It is helpful to have couples take a premarital inventory and to encourage couples living together to practice chasteness prior to the wedding, he suggested. (Chaste behavior, he said, involved no greater intimacy than french kissing prior to the wedding.) A large percentage of the unmarried participants submitted to this request, he said.