Yesterday’s report, Why Marriage Matters, from the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project is getting some good press. In the National Public Radio story, psychologist John Gottman suggests that cohabitation is more stable in Europe, where it receives more cultural and legal recognition. This is a view held by many academics and journalists (including Lauren Sandler who weighed in at Slate). Sandler believes that “cohabitation is only a problem because it’s not normal yet.” By contrast, in Sweden (the land of sweetness and light), where it is “normal to parent without a marriage certificate” all is supposed to be well.
But is this true?
No. In his work on European family life, UCLA demographer Patrick Heuveline finds that
in most [European] countries children born to cohabiting families are two to four times more likely to see their parents separate than are children in married households.
Even in Sweden, children are worse off when mom and dad cohabit. Demographers Sheela Kennedy and Elizabeth Thomson find in their recent study that children born to cohabiting parents are 75% more likely to see mom and dad break up, compared to children born to married parents.
So, in part because cohabitation does not offer the same rituals (a big ceremony), norms (commitment), and practices (fidelity) to partners, their family and friends, and their communities as does marriage, my bet is that cohabitation is not soon likely to deliver stability to kids in the way that marriage does–even in fair Sweden.