Tag Archives: Cohabitation

Most Americans think cohabitation leads to a stable marriage, but what does the data say?

Men who cohabitate are not certain that the relationship is permanent
Men who cohabitate are not certain that the relationship is permanent

If there’s one thing that ought to lead people to Christianity, it’s the proven ability of the Christian moral rules to guide believers away from the sins that destroy them. A lot of modern “Christians” have reduced Christianity to being about their feelings and their community, while allowing the culture to determine their goals and moral boundaries. But that won’t protect them from danger.

Cohabitation describes the situation of a couple moving into the same home and being sexually active, but without any legally-recognized commitment. It’s extremely popular among young people today, and even Christians.

Consider this article from The Federalist about cohabitation:

A new Pew Research Center study shows Americans both cohabitate (“live with an unmarried partner”) and find cohabitation acceptable more than before.

[…]More young adults have cohabited than have married. Pew’s analysis in the summer of 2019 of the National Survey of Family Growth found that, for the first time ever, the percentage of American adults aged 18-44 who have ever cohabited with a partner (59 percent) exceeded the percentage of those who have ever married (50 percent).

I thought this was very interesting, especially for the Christian parents and pastors who imagine that their lovely pious daughters all have a Christian worldview just because they sing in the church choir:

Just 14 percent hold a view consistent with a biblical sexual ethic, that cohabitation with an unmarried romantic partner outside of marriage is “never acceptable.”

Just to be clear, in my life I’ve met about 6 non-Christian men who cohabitated with women, and every single one of them cohabitated with a Christian-raised woman. That should tell you what young women are being told about relationships in their homes and churches about sex and marriage. “Do whatever you want”.

So what purpose does cohabitation serve?

A majority of Americans (69 percent) say that “it is acceptable for an unmarried couple to live together even if they don’t plan to get married.” They may assume that they can decrease their chances of a bad marriage and increase their chances of a good one by giving the relationship a cohabitation “test run.”

[…]A plurality of Americans believe cohabitating before marriage yields more successful unions. Nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that couples who live together before marriage “have a better chance of having a successful marriage.” This view is even more prevalent among young adults aged 18-29 (63 percent).

Another 38 percent of all Americans say cohabitation “doesn’t make much difference” on marital success. Only 13 percent of Americans believe cohabiting couples have “a worse chance” of having a successful marriage.

[…]Most Americans believe cohabitating couples raise children just as well as married couples. Pew also surveyed people’s opinions about cohabiting couples raising children, and 59 percent of Americans declared that cohabiting couples “can raise children just as well as married couples.” Again, the younger respondents were most likely to have a favorable view of cohabitation: among adults aged 18 to 49, 67 percent agreed cohabiting couples do just as well, while 32 percent said: “Married couples do a better job raising children.”

Yes, cohabitation seen as a test run, and it’s supposed to make stable marriage more likely and not be harmful to children at all.

But why think that a test run should be part of getting married? After all, when I buy a parrot from the pet store, I don’t expect to later return that parrot. Why not? Because I am not buying the parrot to enhance MY life. I am buying the parrot to make a commitment to care for the parrot. Whether the parrot fulfills any of my needs is irrelevant to me. I want the bird in my house so that I can decide what it eats, what it drinks, and invest myself into making it happy, according to its birdish nature. This is because I think that parrots have value in and of themselves, and they deserve a certain quality of life. When I buy the parrot, I am guaranteeing a permanent commitment to the bird to provide for its needs, physical and emotional. And that commitment carries forward to the time (now) when the bird is elderly, and can’t even fly up to his cage or down to the floor. He calls for me, and I go over and pick him up and move him. That’s commitment.

Cohabitation, on the other hand, is the practice of saying to another human being: “I am going to try you out as an entertaining commodity in my home, but if you don’t fulfill my needs then I’m going to send you right back.” That’s not a commitment. That’s self indulgence. It’s defining a relationship as entertainment that is designed to meet my needs and make me happy. And that’s because the concept of commitment in relationships is not presented to young people at any time in their lives. Not from parents. Not in churches. Not in the secular left culture as a whole. Everything is a consumer good designed for the purpose of entertainment – including people. It was only the Christian worldview that had a view of people as creatures made by God for eternal life, so that marriage was about guarding the other person’s faith, and building them up to achieve all the things that God wanted them to achieve for his purposes.

But does cohabitation really work to create stable relationships? After all, anyone can find a partner when they’re young and pretty. The real question is whether that partner will stick around when you’re old and ugly and can’t be as “fun” as you used to be.

Here’s a recent (2018) study on cohabitation and stability:

A new study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family finds that the “premarital cohabitation effect” lives on, despite what you’ve likely heard. The premarital cohabitation effect is the finding that those who live together prior to marriage are more likely, not less, to struggle in marriage.

[…]Michael Rosenfeld and Katharina Roesler’s new findings suggest that there remains an increased risk for divorce for those living together prior to marriage, and that prior studies suggesting the effect has gone away had a bias toward short versus longer-term effects. They find that living together before marriage is associated with lower odds of divorce in the first year of marriage, but increases the odds of divorce in all other years tested, and this finding holds across decades of data.

Strategy advice to those who debate this issue: just be aware that Team Secular Leftist is using papers that have short-range samples, which don’t show the instability problem, because they deliberately cherry-pick recently married couples.

And what about children raised in cohabitating relationships?

While Americans are optimistic about the ability of cohabiting couples to raise children, a study published by the American College of Pediatricians in 2014 reported that children whose parents cohabit face a higher risk of: “premature birth, school failure, lower education, more poverty during childhood and lower incomes as adults, more incarceration and behavior problems, single parenthood, medical neglect and chronic health problems both medical and psychiatric, more substance, alcohol and tobacco abuse, and child abuse,” and that “a child conceived by a cohabiting woman is at 10 times higher risk of abortion compared to one conceived in marriage.”

I’m just going to be blunt here. The majority of young people are progressives, and they vote for candidates who believe in abortion through all nine months of pregnancy, and even after birth. Why? Because they don’t want to have their right to seek happiness impacted by the needs of other people. Progressives believe that children, if they exist at all, should enhance the lives of their adult owners. No one should be surprised that people who think that killing inconvenient children is moral are willing to inflict other bad outcomes on them by raising them in an unstable cohabitation environment.

My conversation about morality with an atheist millennial man

This is one of the memes from the Wintery Knight facebook page
If you define morality as “whatever I want to do” then you’ll always be “moral”

I spent some time talking to an atheist millennial recently. He considers himself a moral person, and he is very helpful to others. I asked him to define morality, and he said that morality was feeling good, and helping other people to feel good. I was trying to think of a way to punch a hole in his feelings-based utilitarianism. How could I show him that happy feelings are not a good basis for morality?

Now, you’re probably thinking that abortion is the most obvious example of something that is morally wrong – it’s just killing a baby because adults don’t want to take responsibility for their foolish pursuit of pleasure. But atheists typically don’t think of unborn children as people. They usually believe in naturalistic evolution, and they are committed to a view of reality where the universe is an accident, human beings are accidents, there are no objective human rights, and biological evolution progresses because the strong survive while the weak die. So you aren’t going to be able to generate a moral standard that includes compassion for weak unborn children on that scenario. If the rule is “let’s do what makes us happy”, and the unborn child can’t voice her opinion, then the selfish grown-ups win.

Instead, I decided to focus on fatherlessness. I asked him whether he thought that fatherlessness harmed children. Surprisingly, he said that it didn’t, and that he had a relative who was doing a great job raising fatherless kids. I asked him if he had ever looked at the research on what father absence does to children. He hadn’t. Then I asked him if a system of sexual rules based on “me feeling good, and other people around me feeling good”, was likely to protect children. He went silent.

Well, that was the end of that conversation. And I think it was a nice window into how millennials – who are absolutely clueless about what research says about sex, dating, marriage and parenting – think about relationships. They’re making decisions based on their feelings, then acting surprised when their “common sense” decisions based on happiness “in the moment” blow up in their faces, and destroy the lives of their children, including their unborn children.

Unfortunately, young people are having children outside of a marriage commitment more and more.

Out-of-wedlocks births rising as cohabitation replaces marriage
Out-of-wedlocks births rising as cohabitation replaces marriage

Far-left Bloomberg News reports:

Forty percent of all births in the U.S. now occur outside of wedlock, up from 10 percent in 1970, according to an annual report released on Wednesday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the largest international provider of sexual and reproductive health services. That number is even higher in the European Union.

The EU has a higher rate of fatherless births because they have high taxes and big government to allow women to have children without having to commit to a husband:

The EU likely sees more births out of wedlock because many member countries have welfare systems that support gender-balanced child care, said Michael Hermann, UNFPA’s senior adviser on economics and demography, in an interview. Public health care systems, paid paternal leave, early education programs and tax incentives give unwed parents support beyond what a partner can provide.

More welfare and more government services make it easier for women to pursue relationships with men who aren’t interested in marriage. Hot bad boys who give them all the tingles. Big government makes those boring, predictable marriage-ready men dispensable. Big government also makes it much harder for a man who does marry to afford a stay-at-home mother for his kids, because he has to pay higher taxes for big government.

More:

The data show such births in the U.S. and EU are predominantly to unmarried couples living together rather than to single mothers, the report says.

[…]Jones also noted that the rise in births outside of marriage is closely correlated to delays in childbearing. “Women are claiming their ground professionally,” she said. “Delaying motherhood is a rational decision when you consider the impact it can have on your career, and that’s contributing to this trend.”

[….]The traditional progression of Western life “has been reversed,” said John Santelli, a professor in population, family health and pediatrics at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. “Cohabiting partners are having children before getting married. That’s a long-term trend across developing nations.”

Regardless of marital status, more couples are choosing not to have kids at all. The U.S. fertility rate hit a historic 30-year low last year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hermann said the rise in births outside of wedlock has actually mitigated the decline in fertility, which “would be much steeper if women weren’t having children outside marriage.”

What’s interesting about this anti-marriage article is that they have nothing to say about the research showing that cohabitation – and also marriages that occur after a period of cohabitation – are inferior to no-cohabitation marriages. People who are serious about self-control, and who are serious about committing through thick and thin, tend to have longer lasting marriages. But we don’t prioritize chastity, fidelity and self-sacrificial commitment anymore, because that relationships that require self-denial make us unhappy.

The article concludes: “We can’t go back to the ’50s”. Right. Because if feelings-based “morality” is assumed, then any choice between adult happiness and children’s happiness will favor the adults. Today’s young people carefully AVOID any evidence that contradicts their new “happiness-morality”. They act surprised when their unstable relationships dissolve, leaving children separated from their fathers. Marriage requires that both partners have a system of morality that puts the commitment above happy feelings. People have to be accustomed to doing things that feel bad, just because they are good and moral things to do according to an objective standard of morality. The new atheist morality of happy feelings doesn’t develop the character needed for commitment.

If you ask an atheist millennial, they think they are doing a great job of being “moral”. They don’t see the messes they are making for children as something that they are causing themselves, with their own foolish feelings-based decision-making. They think they know everything about relationships through their feelings. They think that they are exempt from the patterns of cause and effect in the peer-reviewed research.

Don’t dismiss best practices for Christian living as “legalism” and “denying grace”

On Sunday, I listened to a very interesting discussion between Sean McDowell and Jessica van der Wyngaard on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable show. The topic was on the pros and cons of purity culture. I didn’t know a thing about “purity culture”, and had never read any books about it. I didn’t really disagree with anyone on the podcast, but I did want to say something about it in a blog post.

Description:

20 years ago Joshua Harris was the poster boy of the evangelical ‘purity movement’ having authored the bestselling book ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’. Today, Harris regrets writing the book, and has also recently changed his mind about Christianity.

Justin is joined by Jessica van der Wyngaard, director of the documentary film ‘I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye’, and Christian apologist Sean McDowell, to discuss purity culture, singleness and the Joshua Harris story.

The MP3 file is here.

First, here’s a brief summary of what everyone said on the podcast:

  • JW: the book urged people to give up dating in favor of courting and suggested other rules that would guarantee a successful marriage to your soul-mate
  • JW: some of the rules proposed by the book were not Biblical
  • JW: I’m not a virgin and I’m in early-30s, but I accept that we should teach what the Bible says about abstinence
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you remain sexually pure, God will give you a spouse and bless you in the future
  • SM: purity culture is the idea that if you have premarital sex, you will be tainted forever
  • SM: I’m afraid that those reacting against purity culture will build a sexual ethic solely based on their shame, their hurt, their concern about legalism, and this will not help the next generation
  • SM: let’s have a balanced Biblical approach to sexuality instead
  • SM: there is scientific data to back up the Bible’s teaching that marriages work better when sex occurs only within a marriage
  • SM: it’s a mistake to define your spiritual standing based on whether you are a virgin or not
  • SM: following the Bible’s rules for sexuality is an important part of discipleship
  • SM: the Bible is replete with examples of people restoring their standing before God through forgiveness and redemption

Right now, we are living in a secular culture where people are hooking up, having premarital sex, living together, and breaking up far more often than in the past. There is this pattern of choosing partners based on secular criteria: outward appearance and ability to entertain. And this approach to dating – choosing people for the wrong reasons, and trying to force a commitment using premarital sex – is now common practice, even among Christians.

I think people should have a plan to counter this trend that’s realistic and guided by studies and evidence. For example, studies show that people who have no sexual partners before marriage are more likely to still be married 10 years later. Studies show that cohabitation negatively impacts the stability of a future marriage. It’s difficult to accept that this is the way the world is, but if a stable marriage is a goal for you, then you should care about the best practices for having a stable marriage.

Take a different example. Suppose you have a lot of shame and bad feelings over having run up $90,000 of student loans. Now your retirement will be much more difficult. The answer to these feelings of shame is not to say that you can invoke “grace” and that will make everything OK. It won’t. It might help you to make better decisions going forward, but that debt is going to affect your future spouse, your future marriage and your future children.

There are real costs to these behaviors for your future, and being forgiven through Jesus’ atonement isn’t going to instantly make the effects of those choices disappear. It’s good to warn young people about these costs. It’s also good to help people who have made mistakes undo the damage by investing in them. I don’t want us to throw out evidence-based best practices as “legalism”, because they help us to reach the discipleship goals specified for us in the Bible.

The goals of the Bible (e.g. – not aborting, not divorcing) are good goals. If we find out from science that premarital promiscuity or cohabitation reduce our odds of achieving Biblical goals, then it’s a mistake to dismiss that evidence because it make us feel bad about our past. It’s not legalism to investigate evidence and consult wise advisors in order to choose how best to achieve goals like marriage. That’s actually being wise.  Making good decisions doesn’t give you the right to be proud and compare yourself to others, but it is good to make good decisions for yourself, and to share your reasoning with those who ask you.

I agree with the speakers that purity culture is wrong to promise people a happy marriage if they only keep their virginity. That’s just the prosperity gospel, and it really is not a Biblical view of the Christian life.

People who choose to have premarital sex haven’t separated themselves from marriage. But studies indicate that they have damaged the stability of their future marriage if they do nothing to counteract the effects of their choices. And I think there is more to counteracting these bad effects than just stating to your partner “Jesus forgives me, so you can’t judge me”. The focus of the “no-rules because I feel ashamed” crowd doesn’t seem to be on taking the damage seriously and fixing it. Their focus seems to be on not being judged.

I don’t think that a cursory response (“don’t judge me!”) is adequate to undo the damage from premarital sex. But if a person is willing to be honest about their past, and put in the work to understand the effects of premarital sex on their future marriage, renew their minds, and re-establishing their bonding ability, then they should be able to fully counteract the damage. I have met people who have done this, and you can see in their choices and lifestyle that there’s been a complete turning against their former use of sex for fun and attention and self-esteem. It’s not “idolizing virginity and idolizing marriage” to look at the data, and make choices that are likely to lead to a stable marriage.