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Study shows cohabiting relationships to be less stable than marriage

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Among adults aged 18-50, married couples had more confidence that their relationships would last

A new study found that in 11 countries across the globe, cohabiting couples have more doubts about their relationship lasting and give less importance to their relationship than married couples do.

The 2018 Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS) examined living situations in various countries. It found that among adults age 18-50 with children under age 18 living at home, married couples had more confidence in the permanence of their relationships than those who were unmarried but living together.

Across Anglosphere countries, participants who were cohabiting with their partners were significantly more likely, in the past year, to have had serious doubts that their relationship with their partner would last.

The greatest difference was found in the United States, where 36 per cent of cohabiting couples indicated having had serious doubts, in contrast to only 17 per cent of married couples.

In the United Kingdom 39 per cent of cohabiting couples were doubting their relationship’s stability. In Australia that number was 35 per cent, in Canada and Ireland 34 per cent, and in France 31 per cent.

In South America, cohabiting parents were less likely to have relationship doubts, with the least likely being Argentina, where only 19 per cent of cohabiting couples expressed doubt.

The smallest difference found was in France, where relationship confidence between married and cohabiting couples differed by only one percentage point.

In addition to relationship stability, the study also found that overall, cohabiting parents were less likely to define their relationship as “more important than almost anything else in life” compared with responses from married couples, though the difference varies country to country.

In the U.S., 75 per cent of married couples said their relationship is vital to them, while only 56 per cent of cohabiting couples said the same.

In Australia, the difference in importance placed on a relationship between the cohabiting and married families was found to be 15 percentage points and in Ireland 14. In the United Kingdom their responses differed by 17 per cent.

For every South American country, the survey found between 9 and 12 percentage-points difference, except for in Mexico, which had a difference of 23 per cent, in Argentina, which had a difference of 19.

The responses from France were again the closest, with 73 per cent of married couples, and 70 per cent of cohabiting couples, agreeing that their relationship was more important than almost anything else in their life.

Run by the Institute for Family Studies/Wheatley Institution, the GFGS conducted 16,474 online interviews with adults ages 18-50, in the countries of France, Canada, Australia, Ireland, United Kingdom, US, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Colombia, and Argentina.

The study brief, written by Wendy Wang and W. Bradford Wilcox, noted that “a growing number of children in developed countries today are being raised by parents who are living together but not married.”

“Differences in stability between cohabiting and married families are noteworthy because children are more likely to thrive in stable families.”

The survey also suggests, they said, “that one factor explaining the stability premium for family life associated with marriage is commitment. Specifically, this brief finds that married parents are more likely to attach greater importance to their relationship, compared to cohabiting parents.”