Children born to unwed parents are twice as likely to see them break up by the time they reach adolescence compared to their peers born in wedlock, a new study shows.
The annual report by the World Family Map Project also shows that cohabitation increasingly is becoming the preferred model for family formation in Europe and the United States.
Published Monday by the nonprofit Social Trends Institute, the report compares data on 16 indicators of family structure from more than 60 countries around the globe.
“We find no evidence in this report to support the idea that as births to cohabiting parents become more common, as they have in the United States, marriage and cohabitation resemble each other in terms of stability for children,” said sociologist Laurie F. DeRose, one of the study’s authors.
In the United States, children born to cohabiting couples are 102 percent more likely to see their parents break up by the age of 12 than children born in wedlock, the study found.
“On average, marriage is associated with more family stability for children across the globe — even in countries where it is in retreat,” Ms. DeRose, director of research for the World Family Map and a professor of sociology at Georgetown University, said in a statement.
Family stability has been linked with a range of outcomes in children.
Studies have shown that children are more likely to thrive in families with fewer union transitions, even when controlling for a wide range of socioeconomic factors.
Children who grow up in more unstable households are, among other things, at a higher risk of developing behavioral and emotional problems, and are also more likely to suffer parental abuse.
The World Family Map study indicates that marriage may be one of the most important factors in predicting family stability.
The report shows that, in 68 countries around the world, the share of children born to cohabiting couples is correlated with societywide family instability.
Education does not appear to mitigate cohabitation’s destabilizing effect on family formation.
The study shows cohabiting couples with children are more likely to break up than married ones — even if the unwed parents are more highly educated than their counterparts joined in holy matrimony.
Children with highly educated, cohabiting parents see their parents break up at a 49 percent rate before the age of 12, while children born to less-educated but married parents only see their families fracture at a 26 percent clip.
Institute for Family Studies senior fellow W. Bradford Wilcox, one of the report’s lead authors and a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, said these findings demonstration marriage is superior to cohabitation for the purpose of raising children in stable families.
“We know that children thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers,” Mr. Wilcox said in a statement. “The 2017 World Family Map provides fresh evidence that cohabitation is less likely to deliver such family stability to children, compared to marriage.”
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