You may have seen recent news reports that suggested that living together before marriage is not a statistical indicator of divorce. The local anti-domestic violence group (called Project SAFE) ran an editorial in the newspaper which not only trumpeted these poorly reported research findings, but went beyond them to encourage those who a e not yet married to cohabitate. Here is my response, published in our local paper the following week.
I have been proud to live in a town that has such a strong anti-domestic violence program as Project Safe. I have participated in their fundraisers, and have been happy to do so. We must protect families, and we must stand up against those who would abuse the weakest among us.
That is why I was shocked to read the latest Project Safe editorial, which claims that “living together before marriage could make your relationship last longer.”
This claim is based on a false reading of a brief news report based on a study that is little more than an extension of a doctoral thesis by Arielle Kuperberg, who had a vested interest in finding that pre-marital cohabitation was not detrimental. Even according to her study, the result is not that pre-marital cohabitation “can make your marriage last longer.” This was one the first studies, in fifty years of research on the topic, to show that pre-marital cohabitation does not lead to a higher incidence of divorce. But the results only hold true if you consider the results according to certain demographic constraints which are necessary for the thesis of her study to be upheld. Which is to say, the study does not apply universally.
And this is one of the few studies, in fifty years of research, to come to the conclusion that cohabitation does not have a worse outcome than marriage. Nothing is said in her study about better outcomes. By omitting these facts, and by twisting the results, Project Safe is encouraging the people of this community to engage in behavior that is extremely risky. Not at all addressed in this study are issues which are far more important to the mission of Project Safe:
- According to the National Institute for Mental Health, cohabitating women are three times more likes to suffer depression.
- According to research by Dr. Jan Stets of Washington State University, “Approximately 14 percent of those who cohabit admit to hitting, shoving or throwing things at their partner compared to 5 percent of married people.”
- According to the Family Violence Research Program at the University of New Hampshire, the rate for severe violence is five times higher for cohabitors than for married couples.
- Statistics for sexual assault and murder show similar patterns between cohabitors as opposed to married couples. (Statistics from the Book “Living Together: Myths, Risks, and Answers, by Mike and Harriet McManus)
These statistics do not even address the great wealth of information which shows the danger to children of such situations, including higher poverty rates and short-term or even long-term abuse. In addition to which, we have many studies which show that a child of non-marriage is many times likely to end up being incarcerated than one in which both parents are married to each other.
Despite what this one study shows if one considers cohabitation according to certain very strict parameters, the truth is that cohabitation is a risky proposition, one that is unlikely to lead to long-term happiness. This study was picked up by an eager and unquestioning media because it fit the narrative of the modern culture: Any sexual behavior can be engaged in without personal consequences of any sort.
I am saddened that Project Safe was taken in by this inaccurately reported study.
But I am shocked that they would encourage behavior that is known to increase the risk of the very thing they exist to prevent and to help stop.