Cohabiting families’ disadvantage
From a study by Institute of Family Studies
A growing number of children in developed countries today are being raised by parents who are living together but not married.
Some argue that cohabiting parents provide a family environment that is comparable to a married household, given that the children are being raised by two adults. However, a survey of 11 developed countries shows that large shares of cohabiting couples with children under age 18 doubt that their current relationship will last, especially in comparison to married parents. Moreover, cohabiting parents in most countries are less likely than married parents to see their relationship as a vital part of their life.
Among the 11 countries surveyed, the United Kingdom tops the list of relationship doubters when it comes to cohabiting parents. About 4-in-10 UK cohabiting couples with children under age 18 in the home (39%) say that in the past 12 months, they’ve had serious doubts that their relationship with their partner will last, according to the study.
The corresponding share is 36% in the U.S., 35% in Australia, 34% in Canada and Ireland, and 31% in France. Across the Anglosphere, cohabitation is perceived as markedly less stable than marriage by parents.
Cohabiting parents in South America are less likely to express relationship doubts. For example, only 19% of cohabiting couples in Argentina reported that they have serious doubts about their relationship.
However, married couples with young children in all these countries generally have more confidence in their relationship than do cohabiting parents. In the UK, the share of married parents who have serious doubts about their relationship is 12 percentage points lower (27%). For U.S. parents, the difference is 19 percentage points. The smallest difference between the two groups is in France, where 30% of married parents have serious doubts about their relationship, and 31% of cohabiting parents feel the same.
In the survey for the study, married and cohabiting parents were also asked whether they agreed with the statement, “My relationship with my partner is more important to me than almost anything else in my life.” Overall, cohabiting parents are less likely than married parents to agree that their relationship is vital, but the difference varies across countries.
Cohabiting and married parents in the UK differ drastically when it comes to how they value their relationship. While 71% of married parents in the country believe their relationship is more important than almost anything else in life, only 54% of cohabiting parents think this about their relationship. A similar pattern is found in Australia, Canada, the United States, and Ireland, where cohabiting parents are a lot less likely than married parents to view their relationship as a vital part of their lives.
In almost all the surveyed countries, fathers are more likely than mothers to affirm the importance of their relationship with their partner, regardless of their marital status. For example, 65% of cohabiting dads in the UK believe their relationship is more important than anything else in life, compared with only 49% of cohabiting moms. Also in the UK, the corresponding share among married fathers is significantly higher than that of married mothers (77% vs. 66%). This pattern may reflect the fact that mothers are more likely than fathers to prioritize their children over their partner.
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From a study by Institute of Family Studies, 21/04/2020