Ties That Bind

Childrearing in the Age of Cohabitation

Jordanian grooms and brides take part in a mass wedding ceremony in Amman, July 20, 2007. Muhammad Hamed / Reuters

From the United States to the United Kingdom, from Peru to the Philippines, marriage is in retreat and cohabitation is on the advance. The implications of this shift for adults are much debated; some see it as an important indicator of liberation, others see it as a troubling sign of growing social isolation. But even more important might be the impact on kids. 

In the United States, the picture is somewhat dark. Today, a growing share of children are born to cohabiting couples (about 20 percent now), and such children are approximately twice as likely to see their parents break up by the time they turn 12, compared to children born to married parents. What’s more, even among highly educated American couples with children, cohabitation is about twice as unstable as marriage: 49 percent of college-educated mothers will break up with their partner before their child turns 12 if they were cohabiting at

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