Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Lauren Hashian recently announced they’re expecting their second child this spring — outside of marriage. Although cohabiting Hollywood couples present an unusually glamorous and attractive model of unmarried family life, their path into family formation is not as unusual as it once would have been. A study examining U.S. births between 2006 and 2010 found that almost one-in-four children (23%) are born to cohabiting couples.
But theirs is not an example that should be imitated. It’s true that cohabitation has become a normal and accepted practice in the United States in recent years. While cohabitation was frowned upon in the age of Leave It to Beaver, today most adults will cohabit at some point in their lives. But even though cohabitation is increasingly appealing to adults, that doesn’t mean it is good when children are involved.
Cohabitation is appealing to many adults because it offers more freedom, more flexibility and less commitment than marriage. And it’s not without its own benefits — for the adults. An Ohio State study finds that young adults — especially women — get about as much of an emotional boost from living with a partner as they do from marriage. But these benefits do not extend to the growing number of children who are spending time in a cohabiting family.
That’s because for kids “less commitment” between the two people heading up their family often spells trouble. Cohabiting families in America, partly because they are characterized by markedly lower levels of commitment, are also characterized by markedly higher levels of instability. In fact, children born to cohabiting parents in the United States are almost twice as likely to see their parents break up by age 12, according to my research.
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