On Cohabitation

Barb Wire

Families Minister Kevin Andrews has come out recently saying that marriage is better for couples than cohabitation, and predictably he is getting flak for saying so. But he happens to be absolutely correct. The statistics and data he offers on this have long been known, even if politically incorrect to say so.

Let me very briefly summarise the evidence on de facto or cohabitating relationships, and compare this with the benefits of marriage. First, the shortcomings of cohabitation:

  • Cohabiting couples are less likely to stay together.
  • Cohabiting couples are more likely to have extra affairs.
  • Cohabiting couples offer less stability for children.
  • Cohabiting couples experience higher levels of domestic violence.
  • Marriages following cohabitation are 50% more likely to break up.
  • Marriages following cohabitation report less happiness, satisfaction and compatibility.

Contrast this with what we know about marriage (based upon thousands of international studies). The many benefits of marriage include:

  • Married people live longer.
  • Married people are healthier.
  • Married people are happier.
  • Married people have better sex lives.
  • Married couples tend to have better incomes.
  • Children do best when raised in a married, two-parent family.
  • Societies benefit from marriage.

Family structure does matter, in other words, and not all forms of relationships are equal. But the social activists – be they feminist, homosexualists, or others – have been hell-bent for a half century now to deny the mass of social science data on this, as they seek to attack marriage and family.

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That is why it takes real guts today to stand up for the evidence, even though it is so politically incorrect to do so. Let’s have a look at what Mr Andrews said. As one report states:

For better or worse, Families Minister Kevin Andrews has urged de facto couples to get married if they want to boost their chances of a long-term relationships and protect their children. With the number of couples living together before marriage leaping from one in five couples in 1979 to almost four in five in 2012, Mr Andrews said the simple fact was that de facto couples are more likely to separate. And those who suffered most from relationship breakdowns were children.

Figures show that the effects are not only emotional, with the cost of long-term marriage and relationship breakdowns costing individuals $60,000 on average. Mr Andrews said women, who were more likely to commit earlier than men, were often left at the mercy of an “emotional wallop’’ by male partners who walked out after never truly committing to the relationship.

But he warned many Australian blokes are sleepwalking to oblivion by “sliding rather than deciding” to commit to their female partners. “The data shows there is a higher incidence of de facto relationships breaking up,” he said. “What a lot of people do is drift into a relationship. They get together. They like each other. They move in together. And then they try and drift along without making a decision. One might think, “this is a pathway to getting married.” The other might think, “I am happy where things are.” That’s why I think this Stronger Relationships trial is important.”

Mr Andrews has championed the roll out of $200 relationship counselling vouchers for married and de facto couples. New figures reveal 2,982 couples have registered for the trial including several couples over the age of 70. The largest age group to enrol were aged 25-34. Mr Andrews said it was clear that divorce was a “real poverty trap’’ for older women without adequate superannuation. But he insisted he was not suggesting that de facto couples could not involve long term commitment. “No, I am not. I just want them to be stable,” he said.

Asked if he believed de facto couples were more likely to be unstable he said the statistics suggested this was the case. “Well, it’s not that I think that. That’s what the research shows to date. The consequences for government is we end up paying for programs. Why not invest a bit upfront?”

Mr Andrews said while relationships were a matter of personal choice the impact of family breakdown was a huge cost to government. “Look, people can enter into whatever relationship they want. That’s a matter for them,” he said. “But … it becomes a question for the government and the community when relationships break up. “The people who suffer the most out of relationships breaking up are kids.”

He is quite right to stress the wellbeing of children and the interests of society as well. Marriage is far more than a private agreement – it is a social institution which impacts all of us. When we allow marriage to be devalued and minimised, then the whole community suffers.

And people like Mr Andrews are simply speaking from what the social research data is telling us. He is quite familiar with it, having penned a recent 600-pager on the topic. See my review here.

But the forces of PC and leftist social engineering have done their best to suppress, ignore or deny a half century of social science research on the benefits of marriage and the harms of other forms of family structure, including de facto relationships.

It is extremely rare today for anyone to actually stand up publicly and champion marriage. But we must do so nonetheless. The attack on marriage impacts us all. Indeed, to see how very much under siege this institution is, consider a few quick facts on marriage:

  • Fewer people are marrying.
  • People are marrying later in life.
  • More people cohabit before marriage.
  • In fact, 4 out of 5 couples now cohabit before marriage.
  • More divorces are occurring.
  • Families are having fewer children.
  • We have one million children of divorce.

The problem is, it is not just that individual marriages are failing. The very idea of marriage is under threat. And the two feed off each other. Strong individual marriages help support the idea and institution of marriage, while public support for the ideals and value of marriage helps individual couples sustain their marriages.

Thus it is vital that we stand up for the institution of marriage, and highlight the shortcomings of its many substitutes. Despite the flak he is now getting, Andrews is certainly right to champion marriage over cohabitation. And anyone concerned about the quality of their own relationships should pay attention to the data here.

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Barb Wire.

Bill Muehlenberg
Bill Muehlenberg, who was born in America, lives in Melbourne, Australia. He runs a web-based ministry of pro-faith, pro-family activism called CultureWatch: http://www.billmuehlenberg.com. Bill is widely sought out by the media for comments on social issues, faith issues, and family issues, and has appeared on all the major television and radio news shows, current affairs shows, and debate programs. He is the author of In Defence of the Family; Strained Relations: The Challenge of Homosexuality, and several other books.

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