Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Cohabitation myths. . .


From the University of Virginia has come a groundbreaking study by sociologist Bradford Wilcox on the effects of cohabitation, especially the impact on children when their parents are not married.  His study examined the percentage of children over time who are still living with their parents.  You can read it all here.  You can also read a summary in an interview Wilcox did with Andrea Palpant Dilley, The Three Myths of Cohabitation | CT Women | Christianity Today:
From your perspective, what are the most striking or surprising results from the study?
In the vast majority of countries that we looked at in Europe, at all education levels, people who are married when they have kids are markedly more stable than people who are cohabiting when they have their kids. Generally speaking, the least educated married families in Europe enjoy more stability than the most educated cohabiting families. That’s not what I would have guessed. I assumed that we’d find some kind of marriage stability premium, but I didn’t realize it would be that pronounced, and that marriage was a more powerful predictor of family stability in Europe than parental education.
In other words, the marriage premium is pretty consistent across Europe. And a lot of academics and journalists and policymakers and ordinary professionals make the mistake of thinking that in Europe, cohabitation and marriage are functional equivalents, but in reality they’re not.
Did you find the same “marriage premium” across the globe?
We looked at changes in cohabitation levels and family stability across the globe and found in general that as cohabitation increased, the odds that kids would be living with two biological parents in a given country decreased over time. That pattern was actually most salient or most dramatic in the initial increase in cohabitation. It was negligible for countries that already experienced more than 20 percent of their births to cohabiting couples. But overall, our report is pretty consistent in finding that for kids, marriage typically provides more stability across Europe and the United States. Moreover, across the globe, marriage as the norm for childbearing is also associated with higher levels of family stability at the societal level.
Your colleague Laurie DeRose, a lead author in this report and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, claims that the study contradicts three myths about cohabitation and family stability. What are those three myths?
The first myth she writes about is that “cohabitation is less stable just because poorer people are more likely to choose it. In fact, cohabitation is less stable than marriage regardless of the mother’s educational background. In the overwhelming majority of countries, the most educated cohabiting parents still have a far higher rate of break-up than the lowest educated married couples.” So if you’re looking at countries in Europe and the United States, it is striking that marital status is a more powerful predictor of family stability than the education of the parents. It’s contrary to what many professors would expect.
The second myth is that “cohabitation becomes more similar to marriage as it becomes more widespread,” that in places where cohabitation becomes legally and culturally accepted, it will be just as stable as marriage. But that is not the case for children.
The final myth, she writes, “is that where cohabitation has been a long-standing alternative to marriage (scholars writing on Latin America and the Caribbean refer to a ‘dual nuptiality’ system), further growth of the institution will not affect children’s lives.” Again, that’s not the case.
Of course all of this comes as good news to those promoting marriage and family but it also comes with a danger.  The danger is that we are promoting marriage and family because it is better for the children.  It IS better for the children but the reason why the Church promotes traditional marriage, discourages divorce, and speaks against cohabitation and having children outside of marriage is because these are wrong.  The study only reinforces how good and right and salutary the plan of God is but we are not on board with the plan because it is good for us.  We are on board with the plan because it is God's creative will and purpose.  It just so happens that we sometimes, though not always, realize and acknowledge that God's will and purpose are also what is best for us and for our lives here on earth -- EVEN in the midst of sin and its effects upon us and all of God's creative work.

Yes, the secular world needs to know that God's ways are not arbitrary but designed for us and for our benefit but it is our goal and purpose to live in accord with God's will and purpose whether or not our reason apprehends His ways or our feelings give their approval to them.  Yes, it is good and helpful to the cause when studies prove the rightness of God's plan and purpose but if a study shows there is no benefit, we do not abandon God's will.  Yes, it is good and it makes it easier to stand up for God's will and purpose when human wisdom gives credence to God's will and purpose but there is no guarantee that reason or desire will, apart from the Spirit, confirm God's ways as the best.  This is always and always will be the domain of faith.

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