Blair McMillan of Guelph, Canada, has grown a mullet in a bid to return to the year 1986 – the year he was born. He and his girlfriend, Morgan, have also put away their tablets, smart phones, computers, DVD players, X-box, coffee machine – anything technology oriented that didn’t exist before 1986 is gone from their home and their lives. They even use a rotary phone.
Why this intense exercise in “retro?” McMillan states that he had “a vague sense that gadgets were cheating my children of childhood.” Their two children, ages 5 and 2, were so engrossed in technology that they preferred playing with gadgets over being outside or spending time with their parents. That’s when Blair McMillan pulled the plug on technology– literally -and embarked on a year-long project “to get closer and reunite my family.”
Along with dressing the 1986 part, McMillan does banking in person, doesn’t use a GPS, and anyone visiting their home is asked to deposit their “gadgets” in a box upon entry. Blair and Morgan feel like they are giving their children a great gift – a more simple life and a life focused more on what really matters. One might look at their “sacrifice” and conclude they are outstanding parents who are willing to go to great lengths to help their children be successful and happy.
It’s an interesting story, but I struggled as I wrote those first paragraphs. I kept wanting to refer to the couple as the “McMillans.” But that would be inaccurate; the parents of these two well-cared-for boys are not married to one another. They’re cohabiting – living together. Here’s the thought that keeps running through my head: “Why are you working so hard to do right by your children and yet ignoring one of the most crucial things that you could do for them? Why aren’t you married?!”
“Hey, what’s the big deal,” you might say. “Clearly they are dedicated to their children and to each other.”
Here are just a few reasons why it’s a big deal:
When childbirth occurs to cohabiting parents, even if the union remains “stable” for the next five years, the effects on early childhood health are just as deleterious as parental separation or divorce and just as deleterious as if the couple had dissolved their illicit union.
“…cohabitors have rates of separation nearly five times as high as married couples.”
Rates for serious abuse of children are lowest in the intact family, six times higher in stepfamilies, 14 times higher in the always-single-mother family, 20 times higher in cohabiting biological parent families, and 33 times higher when the mother is cohabiting with a boyfriend.
Children who live in cohabiting households are less inclined to care about school and homework performance, and their academic performance is poorer than that of children living with their married biological parents.
Regardless of economic and parental resources, the outcomes of adolescent in cohabiting families (two-biological parent and stepfamily) are worse, on average, than those experienced by adolescents in two-biological-parent married families.
There is a wage premium that accrues to men who marry vs. those who never marry and just cohabit. The wage premium was more than 21 percent for married men, but just 6.5 percent for cohabiting men – relative to never-married and non-cohabiting men. In this complicated analysis, the researcher controlled for selection effects and differential wage growth.
After five to seven years, 39 percent of all cohabiting couples have broken their relationship, 40 percent have married (although the marriage might not have lasted), and only 21 percent are still cohabiting.
Blair McMillan obviously cares about his “partner” and his children, but rather than working so hard to return to 1986, why not give them something that is going to really have a long-term impact on their lives:
Get married and stay married.
*For more information on cohabitation, go here.
- Kammi K. Schmeer, “The Child Health Disadvantage of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 73 [February 2011]: 181–93.
- Georgina Binstock and Arland Thornton, “Separations, Reconciliations, and Living Apart in Cohabiting and Marital Unions,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65 (2003): 432-443.
- Patrick Fagan and Kirk A. Johnson, “Marriage: The Safest place for Women and Children,” The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder Report no. 1535, 10 April, 2002. p. 3, http://www.heritage.org/Research/Family/BG1535.cfm.
- Susan L. Brown, “Child Well-being in Cohabiting Families,” in Alan Booth and Ann C. Crouter, eds., Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy (New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002), 173-187. Elizabeth Thomson et al., “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: Economic Resources vs. Parental Behaviors,” Social Forces 73 (1994): 221-242.
- Susan L. Brown, “Family Structure and Child Well-Being: The Significance of Parental Cohabitation,” Journal of Marriage and Family 66 (2004): 351-367.
- Arif Mamun, “Cohabitation Premium in Men’s Earnings: Testing the Joint Human Capital Hypothesis” Journal of Family and Economic Perspectives (2011) Forthcoming.
- Lynne N. Casper and Suzanne M. Bianchi, Continuity and Change in the American Family (Thousand Oaks,: Sage Publications, 2002).