With its position statement, Cohabitation, the American College of Pediatricians cautions adolescents and young adults about the negative consequences of cohabitation for both themselves and their children, and urges parents to teach their children about the advantages of waiting until marriage.
Research shows that, rather than serving as a stepping stone to a healthy marriage, living together before marriage (cohabitation) makes couples more likely to break-up and more likely to divorce if they do marry. Partners who cohabitate are more likely to be unfaithful than married spouses, and are more likely to be violent toward the other partner. Poverty is more common among cohabitating women because their male partners are less likely to work and more likely to spend their time on personal pleasure than do married men. Women in a cohabitating relationship are ten times more likely to have an abortion than married women, and therefore suffer from its associated mortality and morbidity.
Children also suffer due to parental cohabitation. Not only do they have an increased risk of losing a parent to divorce or separation, but this may happen multiple times. Children whose parents are cohabiting at their birth are over 4 times more likely to suffer separation of their parents by their third birthdays than those whose parents were married when they were born. Couples often enter into cohabitation with a child from a previous relationship leading to the common scenario of child abuse involving a live-in boy friend or a stepfather. Children whose parents lived together (before or after their birth) are at increased risk for living in poverty, achieving lower levels of education, experiencing school failure and earning lower incomes as adults. In addition, they face a greater risk of suffering from medical neglect, as well as chronic physical and mental health problems, including suicide, substance, alcohol and tobacco abuse. Finally, there are also higher rates of behavior problems and incarcerations among these children.
The American College of Pediatricians urges parents and pediatricians to educate adolescents about the risks of cohabitation and the life-long benefits of marriage for the entire family and society. The institution of marriage is one of the best and most cost effective public health tools society has. Saving sexual relationships for marriage should be promoted by the media, school teachers and policymakers alike. Adolescents and young adults should be encouraged to pursue this path for achieving optimal health for themselves, their children and society at large.
For further information, see Effects of Cohabitation on the Men and Women and Involved, and Effects of Parental Cohabitation and other Non-marital Sexual Activity on Children.