Pew Research recently released a new study on the state of marriage and cohabitation in the U.S. I boldly flew in for a look.
I should have braced myself first. Like so many other time-tested practices these days, marriage is in a state of decline. Meanwhile, cohabitation rates continue to rise.
As the chart below shows, 59 percent of adults have cohabitated, a five percent increase from 2002. This increase is likely driven by the fact that 69 percent of adults believe cohabitation is acceptable, even when marriage is not in the plan. Clearly, American adults are eager to appear open-minded and non-judgmental.
But perhaps acceptance of cohabitation doesn’t simply stem from a desire to appear open-minded. Perhaps many American adults – particularly in the younger generations – feel it really doesn’t matter whether couples simply live together or make a solemn commitment to each other in marriage.
Further results in the study seem to back this up, with a majority of adults ages 18-49 saying that cohabitation leads to greater success in marriage. Nearly 60 percent of adults believe that cohabiting couples can raise children just as well as married couples.
Unfortunately, statistics show otherwise. Sixty percent of couples who avoid cohabitation have a greater chance of avoiding divorce and making it to their 20th anniversary. That percentage drops considerably for those who cohabit before marriage. Children raised by cohabitating couples also fare worse in life, according to the American College of Pediatricians, wrestling with more diseases, lower incomes, worse grades, and difficult relationships.
Would more awareness of these statistics change attitudes towards cohabitation? It’s possible, but it’s also likely that something else is at play, namely, the way the present generation has been raised to view divorce and conditional relationships as normal. As the late Allan Bloom explains in The Closing of the American Mind:
Divorce in America is the most palpable indication that people are not made to live together, and that, although they want and need to create a general will out of the particular wills, those particular wills constantly reassert themselves. There is a quest, but ever more hopeless, for arrangements and ways of putting the broken pieces back together.
In other words, it’s difficult for young adults to want to enter the deep, committed relationship of marriage for fear it will fall apart. Bloom continues (emphasis added):
A young person’s qualified or conditional attachment to divorced parents merely reciprocates what he necessarily sees as their conditional attachment to him, and is entirely different from the classic problem of loyalty to families, or other institutions, which were clearly dedicated to their members. In the past, such breaking away was sometimes necessary but always morally problematic. Today it is normal, and this is another reason why the classic literature is alien to so many of our young, for it is largely concerned with liberation from real claims—like family, faith, or country—whereas now the movement is in the opposite direction, a search for claims on oneself that have some validity. Children who have gone to the school of conditional relationships should be expected to view the world in the light of what they learned there.
The children of yesterday, many of whom grew up in a culture of divorce, have not had a pattern of healthy marital and familial love. They undoubtedly crave such love, but they also fear its collapse, and thus seek relationships that mirror marriage, without the requisite commitment, in case things don’t work out as planned.
Isn’t it time to break the cycle and teach the next generation a different way?
[Image Credit: Pxhere]
Annie Holmquist is editor of Intellectual Takeout, an online magazine and sister publication of Chronicles.