George A. Sprecace M.D.,
J.D., F.A.C.P. and Allergy Associates of New
ZENIT, The world seen from Rome
Cohabitation and Marriage: Not Equal Alternatives
Studies Continue Confirming the Need to Strengthen Families
By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, DEC. 2, 2011 (Zenit.org).- The popularity of cohabitation as an
alternative or a preliminary step to marriage continues to grow. Data
this week by the British Office for National Statistics for England and
confirms the trend.
In 2010 only 48.2% of the adult population of England and Wales were
Of the rest, 35.6% were single, 9.3% were divorced, and 7% were
widowed. It is
estimated around one in six people are cohabitating.
One of the main reasons for the decrease in the married population and
increase in the single population is the growth of cohabitation by
couples,” the report stated.
Earlier this year cohabitation in England was examined in a study
the Jubilee Centre, a group that describes itself as a Christian social
In “Cohabitation: An Alternative to Marriage?,” authors John Hayward
Brandon said that although the rise in rates of cohabitation is now
stabilizing, an increasing proportion of these relationships do not
marriage but end in separation.
Their study was based on data from the United Kingdom Household
Study that allows a year-by-year comparison of trends. The data covers
households and 22,265 adults.
Major changes in family relationships started back in the 60s and 70s
the early 80s cohabitation had supplanted marriage as the most popular
first relationship. Since 2000, a scant 15% of couples have married
cohabited as a first relationship.
Cohabitation has undergone significant changes in recent decades. In
the 80s no
less than 81% of people cohabitating married their first live-in
the year 2000 this had declined to 64%. Nevertheless, the great
majority -- 87%
-- still marry one of their first two live-in partners, but this is
95% in the 80s.
There is also an increase in the numbers of cohabitating couples who
dependent children. In 2001 there were 808,000 households with a
couple and children. By 2010 this had increased to 1.07 million.
Given this data, not surprisingly in the last few decades the average
first marriages has risen, from 23.1 in 1981 to 30 in 2009 for women
25.4 to 32.1 for men.
The average age of first cohabitation has also increased, by more than
years for both men and women in this same period of time. So couples
cohabitating later than they used to and marrying even later still.
Another development is an increase in long-term cohabitation. In the
only 25% of couples lived together for more than 3 years. This
the current 50% rate. Moreover, around 25% now live together for more
years before separation or marriage.
Overall, the duration of cohabiting relationships has roughly doubled
last 40years. An analysis of the data shows, however, that this is
to an increase in the length of the shortest cohabitations.
According to the authors, couples' perceived reasons for cohabiting are
changing. Forty years ago cohabitation was more likely to be viewed as
temporary step prior to marriage.
Changing attitudes meant that by the 80s separation was more accepted,
not only led to higher divorce numbers but also to more separations of
The authors conclude that currently cohabitation is increasingly
a lifestyle choice in its own right, rather than principally as a
The study also looked at the effects of cohabitation on future
Around 55% of marriages that started in the early 1980s in which at
partner had lived with someone else have ended in divorce or
compares with around 45% of couples who had only lived with each other
for those who had not lived together at all.
For all marriages since 1980 prior and previous cohabitation quickly
being associated with greater risk of separation and divorce, the
The damage caused by cohabitation increases when it has been with
is not the eventual spouse. Prior cohabitation of a married couple is
associated with a 15% greater risk of divorce. Previous cohabitation
partners leads to a much greater 45% risk.
The news of increased cohabitation comes when again and again research
shown a stable married family is the best environment in which to raise
This was confirmed in research published last month by the federal
Australian Institute of Family Studies.
Researchers Lixia Qu and Ruth Weston, a Nov. 16 press release
analyzed data on almost 5,000 children across Australia, from the time
children were 4-5 years old until they were 8-9 years old.
They found that children of married couples have higher levels of
social and emotional development than children of de facto parents or
mothers. Confirmation, yet again, that much more needs to be done to
and strengthen marriage.
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