A marriage is an intentional, public act of commitment, but cohabiting couples often drift into cohabitation and drift into shared financial responsibilities. They are much more likely to separate because the failure to marry is often the decision of only one partner, and their unwillingness fully to commit destabilises the relationship from the outset (Rhoades, Stanley, and Markman: 2006).
The trend away from traditional marriage is driving the increase in family breakdown. The fastest growing family type in the UK is the cohabiting family which has grown by 30% since 2004 but is the least stable.
In Australia the rates of living together without marrying appears to have increased by one to three percentage points across each Census year since 1971, reaching 16% in 2011.
Family stability is vital for children and as the marriage Foundations Harry Benson claims in “The myth of long-term stable relationships outside marriage”, the key factor for family stability is marital status at birth: couples who are married are far more likely to stay together than those who marry later or remain unmarried.
Cohabitation is less likely to deliver such family stability to children, compared to marriage and as the American expert on family and marriage Professor Brad Wilcox said: “We know that children thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers.
- Ashcroft, J. (2015) Counting the Cost of Family Failure, 2015 Update. Relationships Foundation, Cambridge.
- Benson, H 2013: The myth of “long-term stable relationships outside marriage”, The Marriage Foundation, May, extrapolated from Census and ONS data.
- Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., Markman, H. J. 2006: Pre-engagement cohabitation and gender asymmetry in marital commitment. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(4), 553-560
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