29 Sep Cohabitation and Children’s Well-Being
Families and cultures around the world have different views on cohabitation and there are some who do not see anything wrong with it. A couple of years ago, my older sister decided to cohabitate with her then boyfriend of 2 years. Prior to her decision of cohabitation, she had a 5-year-old daughter with her previous boyfriend whom she met in college. Because she was well off financially, her boyfriend decided to let her move in with her child. Before she knew it, her boyfriend was living on her income because they signed an agreement to share everything equally. Her boyfriend quit his job and spent most of his time at home, “taking care” of my niece while my sister went to work. Little by little, her boyfriend started to abuse her daughter emotionally, physically and sexually. Even though marriage was their long-term goal, my sister also faced abuse from her boyfriend. Their relationship was not equal and her boyfriend was very domineering and controlled everything including her money. Despite all the trials and the downsides of cohabitation, my sister loves him and believes that it will get better,and that he would never really hurt her daughter.
Even though my sister may not see any harm with cohabitation, there are many downsides and negative impacts of cohabitation. Cohabitation, defined as “two adults of the opposite sex living together in an intimate, non-marital relationship” , can be very harmful. There are so many reasons why cohabitation can be a threat to family. One of those reasons, the reason I really want to focus on, is the impact cohabitation has on children physically, emotionally, socially and even financially. My sister’s daughter went through hard times because of her mother’s decision to live with her boyfriend. Family is very important to me and the respect that I have for families is beyond comprehension, but I am more convinced children suffer more than adults or parents when it comes to cohabitation.
Researchers Thomas DeLeire and Ariel Kalil Harris (2005) did studies on how cohabiting couples with children spend their money. The result showed that “children have poorer developmental outcomes than do those growing up in married-parent families or even single-parent families. According to research cohabitating couples spend a substantially larger share of their total expenditure on alcohol and tobacco than do either married-parent families or single parents. Cohabiting couples with children also spend less on health care and less on education than do married parents”  This study shows the negative impact that cohabitation has on children. This research was evident in my niece’s life. She has so many health problems and has a delay in learning development quite possibly due to the fact that my sister and her boyfriend would spend most of their money going to bars and wasting their money on meaningless things.
Children in a cohabitation relationship are more likely to suffer from abuse, and long-term scarring often result. Most of the time, children are afraid to report or mention to someone about their abusive parent because they are afraid to get hurt even more and sometimes, they are regarded as liars or get punished if they talk to their biological parents about what is going on. Even though my niece was not able to do anything about what her mother’s boyfriend was doing to her, she seemed to fake happiness to cover the pain written all over her face. When her mother came home from work, she would pretend like nothing was wrong and needless to say, her mother never questioned her.
DeLeire and Harris were not the only researchers to study the subject of negative impacts that cohabitation has on children. Kammi K. Schmeer (2011) also did research on the subject, but he focused more on the child’s health disadvantages during parental cohabitation. The study shows that, “Children born to cohabiting parents are likely to have less healthy household environments than those born to married parents. Children with cohabiting parents may experience more parental stress, more maternal depression, less social and economic support from fathers or other extended family members and more parental conflict than those with married parents.”  This research shows that children who live with cohabiting parents deal with so many more problems than those with married parents. Even though the focus of this paper is mainly on the impact cohabitation has on children, there are so many other negative impacts that cohabitation has on the couple, the family as a whole, and even society.
A report in 2010 on child abuse by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found that “Children living with two married biological parents had the lowest rates of harm, 6.8 per 1,000 children. While children living with one parent who had an unmarried partner in the house had the highest incidence, at 57.2 per 1,000 children.” This goes on to show that children living in cohabiting households are 8 times more likely to be harmed than children living with married biological parents. Children are suffering because of their parents’ choices mostly because they are not capable of doing anything about their situation. This is something that needs to be dealt with– not just talk, but action. Those who see nothing wrong with cohabitation are ill-informed as to the consequences children are experiencing and suffering.
DeLeire , T. and Kalil, A. (2005), How do cohabiting couples with children spend their money?. Journal of Marriage and Family, 67: 286–295.
HHS Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, (2010) Abuse, Neglect, Adoption and Foster Care Research, National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, NIS-4, 2004- 2009”
Schmeer, K. K. (2011), The Child Health Disadvantage of Parental Cohabitation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 73: 181–193.
Stokes, C and Raley, R. K (2000), Civic Engagement, Adulthood: Cohabitation. http://www.utexas.edu/cola/_files/kraley/StokesRaley.pdf
Deborah Wene is an intern at BYUI. Her story of parents choosing to give her life rather than aborting her is shared with UFI readers in an earlier blog post. She grew up in Africa and has a remarkable story of love of life, devotion to God, and respect for the family unit.