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Divorce Revolution Spawns Cohabitation Generation

Results of a Rutgers University study are sobering and disconcerting-the majority of today's young adults are inclined toward living together outside of marriage.

by Cecil E. Maranville

There was an outside chance 30 years ago that a 6-year-old child might know a child from a home broken by divorce. Today there is an outside chance that a 6-year-old child might know a child from a home not broken by divorce. The oddity is becoming the child from the home of his married biological parents.

Hyperbole? Maybe. Maybe not. A phenomenal change has quietly swept through Western society, and few seem to know about it. Fewer still seem to care. Over the course of the last few decades, societal norms have evolved from viewing divorce as a stigma to seeing it as normal, natural and often necessary. Sociologists summarize this radical change by referring to "the divorce revolution." The children of the divorce revolution are not buying the cavalier philosophy about divorce being normal. And they are taking steps that will-they think-help them to avoid the pain and costs associated with broken marriages. The divorce revolution has spawned "the cohabitation generation."

"By simple definition, living together-or unmarried cohabitation-is the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household" ("Should We Live Together?" A Comprehensive Review of Recent Research by David Popenoe and Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, The National Marriage Project: the Next Generation Series. Emphasis added throughout).

The biblical term for unmarried cohabitation is "fornication." God reveals that sexual relations outside of marriage are damaging. "Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (1 Corinthians 6:18). Why? What did God know that people have been discovering the hard way?

Far from insignificant, the trend toward cohabitation is nothing short of revolutionary. About 11 percent of couples cohabited before marriage between 1965 and 1974; 44 percent of couples cohabited before marriage between 1980 and 1990; over 50 percent of couples marrying today cohabit before marriage. Nearly 60 percent of high school seniors agreed or mostly agreed with the survey statement that cohabiting is usually a good way to prepare for marriage.

In 1970 the number of people living together without marriage was 523,000. Today, the number exceeds four million!

Marriage statistics are equally revealing-and equally shocking. The study found that the national marriage rate has dropped 43 percent over the past four decades to its lowest point ever.

Why Young People Choose Cohabitation

Why? What has caused this revolution? In large part, it's a result of the divorce revolution, aided by a general loosening of attitudes toward morality.Having witnessed and experienced firsthand the negative results of divorce, today's youth want to avoid them. "For today's young adults, the first generation to come of age during the divorce revolution, living together seems like a good way to achieve some of the benefits of marriage and avoid the risk of divorce. According to surveys, most young people say it is a good idea to live with a person before marrying…" (ibid.).

They believe that cohabiting couples who eventually marry will have stronger marriages for their having lived together first. Cohabiting, they reason, enables them to get to know each other much better than people who enter into marriage without first living together. Then, if things don't work out, the relationship can be broken without the hassle of either legal procedures or religious permission.

They believe that many divorces will be avoided by starting relationships with a "trial period" of living together. Cohabiting, they contend, will provide opportunity for the unmarried man or woman to experiment enough that he or she will find the ideal match before eventually entering into marriage.

That's not to say that all young adults have the same reasons for cohabiting. Some live together with no intention of marrying. Others live together briefly before marrying each other. And still others see cohabiting with various partners as preparation for marriage with someone-eventually.

And additional reasons are argued for cohabiting. It is claimed that cohabitation provides economic benefits. Young adults perceive the idea that living together is a more progressive, realistic approach to today's world than old, repressive, Victorian attitudes toward intimacy.

The feminist movement, with its theme of reversing male dominance of the American family, encourages cohabitation instead of traditional marriage roles. The modern approach, it is argued, allows a woman more control, more freedom and less subjection to men.

Included in the report were the results of a survey of a group of young adults about their views of living together and marriage. All were single, working 20-somethings from New Jersey.

"[Most] of them thought marriage should occur [only after] there are children, and children should come after a house is bought and a couple has a good annual income-around $75,000 in the women's views… [The] young people saw… cohabitation as a good way to test compatibility, detect character strengths and weaknesses, and arrange certain household economies…. Women preferred short-term cohabitation, saying they could determine the man's suitability for marriage in a few months. In contrast, many of the man said they could cohabit indefinitely" ("Cohabitation No Formula for Future Bliss in Marriage," by Cheryl Wetzstein, The Washington Times).

Models of good marriage relationships are sadly missing. "'I'm worried most because of the teenagers,'" Popenoe said, adding, "Teens don't even know anyone who's happily married."

No Evidence of Any Advantage

In spite of such a vast increase in numbers of couples cohabiting unmarried, and in spite of the many reasons offered for their behavior, there is no evidence that cohabitation makes any positive contribution to marriage whatsoever!

In fact the evidence runs strongly to the contrary, that cohabitation is detrimental in many ways. Here is what the Popenoe-Whitehead research found:

Living together before marriage increases the risk of divorcing after marriage. "A 1992 study of 3,300 cases…based on the 1987 National Survey of Families and Households, found that in their marriages prior cohabiters 'are estimated to have a hazard of dissolution that is about 46 percent higher than for noncohabiters'" (op. cit., Popenoe-Whitehead).

Living together outside of marriage increases the risk of domestic violence for women and the risk of physical and sexual abuse for children. "One study in Great Britain…found that, compared to children living with married biological parents, children living with cohabiting but unmarried biological parents are 20 times more likely to be subject to child abuse, and those living with a mother and a cohabiting boyfriend who is not the father face an increased risk of 33 times" (ibid.).

People who cohabit are much more likely to enter unsuccessful cohabiting relationships again. They become serial cohabiters. Leaving one relationship apparently makes it easier to leave another-rather than providing the stability that many say they seek.

Fully three-quarters of children born to cohabiting parents will see their parents split up before they reach age 16, whereas only about a third of the children born to married parents face a similar fate.

Chances that cohabiting mothers will marry their child's father are declining. The most recent statistics show that it'll happen in only 44 percent of cases.

Economic relationships of cohabiters are often tenuous.

Depression in cohabiting couples runs more than three times the rate among married couples. Overall, unmarried couples have lower levels of happiness and well being than married couples.

In summary, instead of providing the benefits of marriage without the problems, cohabitation delivers much the opposite-the problems of poor marriage relationships without many of the benefits of good ones. If anything, cohabitation is somewhat of a "low level marriage," similar to what was called a common law marriage in another day and time. It teaches a low-commitment, high-autonomy, selfish pattern of relating and mirrors the worst of a self-fulfillment approach to marriage. Rather than help anyone escape from the ills of the divorce revolution, cohabiting unmarried perpetuates its flaws.

We're witnessing the evolution of "the throwaway relationship" much like many other disposable items in our consumer society.

Religion Ineffective in Reversing the Trend

In the United States of 30 years ago, people who lived together unmarried were said to be "living in sin," but U.S. society is rapidly distancing itself from those religious roots. Many young people associate getting married before living together with values of a different, past generation-values that are not for now, not for the current generation. It's attractive to them not to worry about having to discuss their relationship with a clergyman either at the beginning or at the dissolution of their union.

"Underlying all of these trends is the broad cultural shift from a more religious society where marriage was considered the bedrock of civilization and people were imbued with a strong sense of social conformity and tradition, to a more secular society focused upon individual autonomy and self invention. This cultural rejection of traditional institutional and moral authority, evident in all of the advanced, Western societies, often has had 'freedom of choice' as its theme and the acceptance of 'alternative lifestyles' as its message" (ibid.).

Men have long misappropriated religion as authority to suppress and abuse women. Seizing advantage from reactions to those wrongs, the feminist movement has influenced religious thought and practices to be more accepting of cohabitation. The feminist angle is that cohabitation is a more positive arrangement for women. (As noted above, research shows that just the opposite is true, that the incidence of abuse increases.)

Religion ought to take the lead in teaching and encouraging the practice of balanced, biblically based roles for husbands and wives to reverse further erosion of marriage. Instead, some religions rush to take a more popular stance, attempting to respond to and accommodate social trends. They have begun to offer "commitment ceremonies" as an alternative to marriage ceremonies!

Those who read and believe the Bible would know that it's God's will that relationships between single men and women progress to marriage without living together first. "For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from unchastity [fornication, KJV, or in the vernacular, cohabitation]; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God; that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we solemnly forewarned you. For God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness" (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7, RSV).

Are most religions teaching what God says on this crucial issue, and leading people in ways that will benefit them the most?

"[Few] religions prohibit cohabitation or even actively attempt to discourage it, so the religious barrier may be quite weak… [As] the practice of cohabitation in America becomes increasingly common, popular distinctions between cohabitation and marriage are fading. In short, the legal, social and religious barriers to cohabitation are weak and likely to get weaker. Unless there is an unexpected turnaround, America and the other Anglo countries, plus the rest of northern Europe, do appear to be headed in the direction of Scandinavia" (ibid.).

Scandinavia, principally Sweden and Denmark, lead the world in cohabiting couples-along with the lowest marriage rate and one of the highest divorce rates.

What Does the Future Hold?

Popenoe and Whitehead wrote, "We recognize the larger social and cultural trends that make cohabiting relationships attractive to many young adults today. Unmarried cohabitation is not likely to go away."

That translates into more abuse of women and children, more depression, more unhappiness and more divorce. In order to address issues such as healthcare, financial contracts and child custody, new legislation will be written to accommodate this "marriage without getting married" relationship called "living together."

And cohabiting is often done supposedly to avoid the very problems it brings on. It makes a sane person want to scream.

"Unlike divorce or unwed childbearing, the trend toward cohabitation has inspired virtually no public comment or criticism," says the Popenoe-Whitehead report. Well, World News and Prophecy is commenting: living together unmarried is but another wrong, rather than righting the wrongs of the divorce revolution. It is sin-sin that has been dressed up in more acceptable-sounding words perhaps, but sin nonetheless. When people sin, they pay a price, their children pay a price and their entire nation pays a price-a terrible price.

Christ's words resound with wisdom and warning: "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery [porneia, meaning immorality, including fornication or unmarried cohabitation].' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart'" (Matthew 5:27-28).

Knowing the damage that it would inflict on humankind, His urgent counsel is to avoid it at all costs. In His own words: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).

Whether or not a couple should live together unmarried cannot be decided by economics, convenience, societal trends, personal preferences-by human opinion in any form. Marriage is a divine institution, ordained of God. He alone makes the rules. He alone is justified is saying what works and what doesn't. If only people had the sense to listen to what He says, instead of choosing to experiment. What a hard way to learn. WNP

(The Popenoe-Whitehead report can be read in its entirety at http://www.smartmarriages.com/cohabit.html.)


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