Boston Globe: Marry, marry? Quite contrary
Washington-based Child Trends, in a research brief published in May using the National Center for Education Statistics' Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, finds that 52 percent of nonmarital births are to cohabiting couples. The University of Wisconsin's Center for Demography and Ecology reached the same conclusion in a working paper it expects to publish this summer after analyzing data from the National Center for Health Statistics' National Survey of Family Growth.
That's up from 29 percent in the early 1980s and 39 percent in the early 1990s. "Clearly it's become a normal part of American family life," says Sheela Kennedy, co author of the upcoming Wisconsin paper. At a time when the rate of births to teenaged mothers has fallen to record lows, the increase in births to couples living together appears to drive the continued increase in out-of-wedlock childbearing. Overall, more than a third of births in the United States are to unmarried women, up from one-fifth in 1980.
"The stereotype of the unmarried mother is a single parent who's a teen," says Child Trends senior scholar Kristin Moore. "It's both of those things that have changed. They're more likely to be over 20, and half of them are cohabiting, at least short-term."
The shift heralds both good news and bad news for children. Counterbalancing the benefits of living with both parents is the fact that cohabiting parents, Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt notwithstanding, tend to be less educated and less economically secure than their married peers. Their relationships tend to be less stable. Two years after their babies were born, 94 percent of married parents were still together, according to Child Trends, compared with 69 percent of cohabiting couples who were either still living together or had married.