Children thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers… and cohabitation is less likely to deliver such family stability to children, compared to marriage: a UK study has found

In recent decades, much of the globe has witnessed a retreat from marriage. This means more children are being born outside of marriage, either to single parents or cohabiting couples, in countries around the world. This social change raises a few questions:

  1. Are such children less likely to enjoy stable family lives?
  2. Is the growth of non-marital childbearing, including the growth of childbearing within a cohabiting union, associated with more family instability for children? 
  3. Are there financial disadvantages impacting children born outside of marriage?

A new study has found that the United Kingdom has among the highest rates of family instability in the developed world. Commenting on the study, distinguished American expert on family and marriage Professor Brad Wilcox said: “We know that children thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers. 

Research undertaken by the Social Trends Institute highlights the growing consensus that the number of parental union transitions matters for children above and beyond family structure, with children being more likely to thrive in stable families and more likely to flounder in unstable ones.

Similar comparisons can be made to Australian families because family instability is associated with a host of negative outcomes for children. According to Australian research, households consisting of lone-parent families is increasing (from less than 7% in 1976 to 11% by 2006). The research also found that there was a significant increase in the rate of ex-nuptial births from 1980 (only 12.4% of babies born outside of marriage) to more than one-third of all babies born in 2008 (34.4%).

Whilst  the proportion of all divorces that involve children has declined since the early 1970s – from 68% in 1971 to 61% in 1980, 56% in 1990, 53% in 2000, and 48% in 2012, the trends do not capture the extent to which cohabiting relationships break down. In any case, over the last decade, at least 47,000 to 55,000 children under 18 years will have experienced the divorce of their parents each year.

Analysis of data from “Growing Up in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC)”, indicates that children living with cohabiting parents are more likely than those living with married parents to experience parental separation.

In another report (Weston, R. and Qu, L. 2013) the authors suggest that trends in the formation and stability of relationships and in childbearing and family formation have changed in striking ways over past decade.

If comparisons can be made to the UK study, and that children are more likely to flounder in unstable families, the spike in children born outside of marriage eludes to the fact that children from cohabiting relationships are more likely to experience parental separation than those living with married parents.


  • DeRose, L. Lyons-Amos, M.; Wilcox, W.B.; and Huarcaya, G. 2017: The Cohabitation-go-round: Cohabitation and Family Stability Across the Globe, Social Trends Institute, World Family Map 2017.
  • Families then and now: 1980-2010: Alan Hayes, Ruth Weston, Lixia Qu and Matthew Gray
  • Weston, R., & Qu, L. (2013). Working out relationships (Australian Family Trends No. 3). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies.

Read more: The Cohabitation Go Round: Cohabitation and Family Instability across the Globe.

More tips at

Take the Couple Checkup

Take the Couple Checkup

Simply click on the Register button below relevant to your relationship – it couldn’t be easier. Once you have finished the questions you should receive your comprehensive personalised report in about 30 seconds.

Take the Couple Checkup

The Couple Checkup generates deep and productive conversations that couples would not otherwise have about their relationship. These conversations restore insight and understanding about one another. The Couple Checkup can help to revive a relationship and increase intimacy. 

The Couple Checkup is an online couple assessment based on the PREPARE/ENRICH couple inventories. The Checkup assessment and Checkup report are designed to go directly to couples at any stage of their relationship (dating, engaged or married). The online system allows for dynamic customization of the assessment to each couple based on how the couple answers background questions. The goal is for the Couple Checkup to reach a more diverse group of couples, to empower couples to deal with issues on their own and to emphasize prevention over remediation.

For more information on the use and analysis of the Couple Checkup or to simply use the tool, please contact: or call today (02) 9520 4049 #couplecheckup #relationship

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s