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Shotgun cohabitation

Marriage

Unwed couples who get pregnant are more likely to move in together than to get married, according to government data collected over the past decade. Cohabitation has surpassed “shotgun weddings” as the most common reaction to an unplanned pregnancy by an unmarried couple, a growing trend that creates an unstable environment for children.

The trend is outlined in a soon-to-be-released report from the National Survey of Family Growth, a data collection program compiled every four years by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). The survey collects data on the relationship status of women before and after conception and childbirth.

The data gathered between 2006 and 2010 indicates that about 18.1 percent of single women facing an unplanned pregnancy decide to move in with their boyfriend. Only 5.3 percent decide to get married, down from 25 percent in the early 1990s, according to research by Cornell University’s Daniel Lichter.

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Considering other statistics, this mentality shift is unsurprising. According to another NCHS survey from the same period, almost 90 percent of married men and women claim to have had premarital sex, and about 50 percent of men and women say they have cohabited with a partner of the opposite sex. In response to the statement, “A young couple should not live together unless they are married,” 68 percent of females and almost 71 percent of males said they disagree or strongly disagree.

In a society where having sex and living together is no longer taboo, today’s couples are making the short step to say that raising a baby outside of wedlock is no longer taboo either.

“The emergence of cohabitation as an acceptable context for childbearing has changed the family-formation landscape,” said Christina Gibson-Davis, a Duke University sociology professor. “Individuals still value the idea of a two-parent family but no longer consider it necessary for the parents to be married.”

Many see the growing trend of cohabitation parenting as an inexpensive way to “test drive” marriage—the NCHS survey found that one in four babies are born to cohabitating women.

But, according to statistics from the Heritage Foundation’s Family Facts site, cohabitating couples have a separation rate five times higher than married couples. They are also less likely to reconcile following a separation, more likely to experience infidelity in the relationship, and more likely to experience divorce when they do marry down the road.

“The rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s family lives,” Brad Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, wrote in The New York Times. It is “outpacing even divorce as a risk to the well-being of today’s children,” he said.

Kiley Crossland
Kiley Crossland

Kiley works for an international student and missions organization. She and her husband live on a farm in Boulder, Colo.

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