Nearly Half Of American Children Don’t Have Married Parents. Here’s Why It Matters

Grace Carr | Reporter

Unmarried couples are having roughly 40 percent of all births in the U.S., marking a trend that may be detrimental to the upbringing of those children.

For the first time in U.S. history, out-of-wedlock births in America are largely a result of cohabitationaccording to the United Nations Population Fund 2018 State of World report released Wednesday. Single mothers had nearly 90 percent of out-of-wedlock births in 1968, but that number decreased to 53 percent in 2017, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Compared to children of married parents, those with cohabiting parents are more likely to experience the breakup of their families, be exposed to ‘complex’ family forms, live in poverty, suffer abuse, and have negative psychological and educational outcomes,” according to the Institute for Family Studies (IFS).

Roughly 14 million American adults cohabited in 2007, and that number rose to 18 million in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Half of cohabiting couples in the U.S. are younger than 35, according to Bloomberg Quint. Cohabitation has increased about 2,000 percent since 1960, according to the American Enterprise Institute.

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Two-thirds of U.S. adults said increasing numbers of single women raising children by themselves was bad for society, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center survey. Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed also said greater numbers of unmarried couples raising children is not good for society, according to Pew.

Children with single parents have the highest rates of poverty followed by children living with unmarried, cohabiting parents, the IFS reported.

Between 2006 and 2010, 23 percent of births to married women were unintended while 51 percent of births to unmarried cohabiting women were unintended. That number rose to 67 percent for unmarried women not cohabiting. (RELATED: Study: US Birth Rate Is At 30-Year Low)

Two-thirds of cohabiting parents split up before their child reaches age 12, while only a quarter of married parents divorce, according to an April 2017 Brookings Institution report.

Actor Dwayne Johnson poses with Lauren Hashian and their daughter Jasmine Lia in Los Angeles, December 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Over 40 percent of married mothers and fathers have a bachelor’s degree, according to a March 2016 U.S. Census Current Population Survey. Only 8 to 10 percent of cohabiting mothers and fathers with one or more biological child have a bachelor’s degree.

Children living with their biological cohabiting parents are also more than four times as likely to be physically, sexually or emotionally abused as kids living with their married parents, according to the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.

Actors Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrive with their children at Narita airport in Japan, January 2009. REUTERS/Toru Hanai

Children in cohabiting families face greater risks of depression, drug use and failed matriculation than children living in a home with married parents, according to the National Marriage Project.

Married parents are on average older, better educated, and earn more money than their unmarried cohabiting peers. Some scholars have suggested awarding tax bonuses of upwards of $4,000 per child in order to incentivize people to marry before having children.

Since 1990, marriage rates have also continued to decrease, while those that do marry are delaying.

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