The discussion on Family Scholars gave me a chance to think about how we support young people who are cobabitating.
Rates of cohabitation vary widely in Europe. In general, the northern countries have higher rates of cohabitation. The chart below illustrates the percentage of children that are growing up in households with cohabitating parents. (Note: The percentage of children living with cohabitating parents in the US is 2.9%.)
For more data about European families go to OECD Statistics.
There is a wide range of rates of cohabitation among the European countries. Below is a chart showing the rates of cohabitation for many of the European countries. These percentages were based on a report by the OECD and represent the most current rates from each country, they are not from the same year.
One of the challenges in understanding the effects of divorce on children is that we frame the question in a way that prevents us from getting a deep understanding of the issues.
Most of the time we frame the question in terms of whether or not growing up in home with continuously married parents is better than one in which parents get divorced.
In this question we are comparing two structural arrangements of families without considering the marital or family processes that are embedded in these two structural arrangements.
A more fundamental question is what types of processes lead to better outcomes for children. This leads to questions such as:
- Is it better if children have parental role models that demonstrate the ability to manage their anger and differences and resolve differences in constructive ways?
- Is it better if children have both mothers and fathers who are actively engaged in talking, playing, and teaching them?
- Is it better for children in they have parents who provide limits and rules about behavior and deeply caring and affectionate towards them?
- Is it better for children to have parents to communicate similar messages and expectations to them about what they should and shouldn’t do?
- Is it better for children if parents support one another in their involvement with the children?
- Are children better off when their parents demonstrate respect for each other?
- Are children better off when they aren’t exposed to physical and emotional abuse between their parents?
These are all process questions. In general, research evidence shows that the answer to all of these questions is “yes.” The research also shows us that both married and divorced parents can possess or not possess each of these processes. There is also accumulating evidence that same sex couples can also possess or not possess these processes.
By focusing on the process questions in marriage, parenting and/or divorce education programs we can more broadly teach the skills and strategies that will help people be more effective in parenting regardless of the “structural” arrangement.
What are the trends in marriage, cohabitation, and divorce in the US?
What policies and programs would strengthen American families?
Some of the possible answers to these questions are in the annual “state of our union” report from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia and the Institute for American Values that was released today at FamilyScholar.org.
In addition to documenting the changing nature of marriage and families the report highlights policy and program ideas to strengthen marriages. There is an excellent summary of the effectiveness of marriage and relationship education with low-income couples by Alan Hawkins and Theodora Ooms based on their recent meta-analytic research. (Here is a previous summary.)
There are some very interesting ideas in this report. There will be a more extended discussion of the findings and policies in this report Dec 20-21 hosted by Amy Ziettlow.
Following infidelity, most couples wonder: is there any way to recover from this injury to the relationship and save the marriage? Elizabeth Allen and her colleagues recently conducted a study with Army personnel to test whether marriage education could improve the relationships of couples who had experienced infidelity. They were asked to participate in a program about marriage education; there was no mention of marital distress or infidelity in the recruitment. Half of the couples were assigned to participate in the Prevention and Relationship Education Program (PREP) and the other half were assigned to a control group. The couples were in the late 20s, were mostly white (about 70 percent) and had a high school education. The couples had been married an average of seven years and about three-quarters had children.
The program was successful in increasing these couples’ marital satisfaction and had a positive effect on their communication skills. Despite these improvements, the PREP program did not decrease the likelihood of divorce for couples with a history of infidelity. Allen and colleagues conclude, “For some couples with a history of infidelity, PREP may strengthen the marriage and reduce the chances of divorce, but for other couples, PREP’s focus on characteristics of healthy and unhealthy marriage may clarify awareness of ongoing marital issues, resulting in the decision to end the marriage.”
The Army has launched an education campaign, called Strong Bonds, to help service members and their spouses strengthen their marriages.
The National Center for Health Statistics recently released a report on trends in the US regarding cohabitation, marriage and divorce.
The report provides tables and figures that describe:
- Cohabitation and marital status of men and women Tables 1 & 2
- Age of first marriages for men and women, Tables 3 and 4
- Length of first marriages, Tables 5-7
- how cohabitation impacts the durability of marriage, Tables 5-7
- Length of separation between first marriage and divorce, Table 8