Child Stability: Marriage > Cohabitation

It is well understood that children do better in two-parent families than in single-parent families. It’s also well understood that if that absentee parent is the father, then children are more likely to have behavioural issues and display instability. We also know that divorce negatively impacts children. That’s all common sociological knowledge. What has not been well evidenced is whether marriage confers more child stability than cohabitation (though we did have some decent evidence), which is an important question, because the rates of marriage within child-bearing households are lower than previous years and cohabitation is much higher than in previous years.  But we now have some really good evidence from the 2017 World Family Map Project. Here’s the concluding paragraphs of the resource found on page 21:


On the other hand, this is the first study to show across a broad range of countries that the stability advantage to marriage exists at all levels of maternal education. If children born within marriage were advantaged primarily because better-educated mothers are more likely to have children within marriage, overall contrasts associated with partnership context at birth should have been muted within education categories. Instead, the overall stability gap was fairly consistent across educational levels.

Further, we have established that cohabitation continues to confer a stability disadvantage on individual children even as cohabitation has become more normative. We nd no evidence supporting the idea that in societies where cohabiting births are more common, marriage and cohabitation come to resemble each other in terms of stability for children. There is much cross-national variation in the size of the stability gap, but it is not conditioned by the prevalence of cohabitation. While growth in cohabitation tends to close the socioeconomic gap between cohabiting and married couples, it does not close the stability gap for their children. In other words, marriage seems to be associated with more family stability for children across much of the globe.

Adding this point to the growing evidence that same-sex “families” have disadvantages over traditional married couples (see here, for example), what we should have is a favour toward traditional families. In other words, we should have a favour for the conservative stance on families: Children do best with both their biological mother and father in a marriage. For liberals and progressive thinkers, this is a startling finding, but for conservatives, this is common-freaking-sense.

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