A reader recently told me that he and his girlfriend were thinking about having children, but he was wondering if cohabitation rather than marriage would have any negative effects on their relationship as well as in their parenting skills. Unfortunately, the research on cohabitation hasn’t been too favorable, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be cohabitating couples out there that still have children. I just want to offer up a few pieces of advice for couples thinking about starting a family.
First of all, having a child is a huge decision to make, regardless of whether a couple is married or not. So before you decide to have a baby, you and your partner need to take the time to understand how different your lives will be once a baby enters the picture. Some couples don’ t realize the true time commitment, and responsibility of having a child, and couples need to understand that their relationship will never be the same because they aren’t just thinking of themselves anymore.
That being said, many couples do understand the commitment involved and are more than ready to start having children. Some of these couples are married, but a growing amount of these couples are simply living together. But like I said before, most of the available research on cohabitation has not been positive. One of the major disadvantages of cohabitation has been reduced marriage rates. Married individuals tend to be happier, and healthier than single individuals, and the benefits of marriage seem to decrease when couples are simply cohabitating. (Popenoe, 2009) Cohabitating couples also have a higher rate of separation than married couples do, and this is where having children might become a problem. (Popenoe, 2009)
Separation and divorce are very hard on children, and single parents have a number of issues ranging from the emotional to the economic. Cohabitating couples that have children run the risk of eventually raising children in one-parent households. Research also suggests that cohabitating couples that eventually do decide to get married tend to have higher rates of divorce than couples that did not cohabitate before marriage. (Popenoe, 2009)
I understand that the research isn’t too optimistic when it comes to cohabitating couples having children, but I would also like to point out that every individual isn’t the same. Research has also found that cohabitation has no negative effects on eventual marriage if these couples had never cohabitated with anyone else before each other. (Popenoe, 2009)
I don’t want to discourage any couple that truly wants to have a family simply because of the research, but I do ask that you keep the research in mind before you do decide to have a child. You need to step back and make sure that the two of you are truly committed to each other first, and only then can your family succeed.
Popenoe, D., (2009) Cohabitation, marriage, and child well-being: a cross-national perspective. Social Science and Public Policy. Vol. 43, 429-436.