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What do "I do's" do? : potential benefits of marriage for cohabitating couples with children.

Publication Year: 
2004
Personal Author: 
Acs, Gregory.
Nelson, Sandi.
Corporate Author: 
Urban Institute.
National Survey of America's Families.
Assessing the New Federalism (Program)
Briefing Materials
Page Count: 
8

The report explores the potential benefits of marriage for couples who are living together and have children. It begins with a review of research literature that indicates children with cohabiting parents fare worse than those with married parents. Research results are then provided from the 2002 National Survey of America's Families that focus on four different living arrangements for children: children living with two biological or two adoptive parents who are married; children living with a biological parent who is married to either a stepparent or an adoptive parent children living with two biological or two adoptive parents who are not married to each other; and children living with a biological or adoptive parent and that parent's boy/girlfriend. The study found major differences between characteristics of cohabiting and married parent families with cohabiting fathers less likely to work than married fathers, less likely to have worked full-time in the previous year, more likely to be high school dropouts, and more likely and to be under age 25. Mothers in cohabiting parent families also differed significantly from their counterparts and were more likely to be high school dropouts, more likely to be under age 25, and less likely to be currently employed than married mothers. To assess how differences in child well-being can be attributed to differences in family characteristics, a series of simulations were completed showing how children in cohabiting families would fare if their parents were to marry. Results indicate that if all the cohabitors were to marry, the poverty rate for children in these families would fall from 19.5 to 16.1%, the share of children in low-income cohabiting families would fall from 50.8 to 43.4%, the share of children in cohabiting families experiencing food-related hardships would decline from 46.3 to 39.4%, the probability that their children would have a highly aggravated parent would fall from 11.3 to 10.6%, and the probability of having a parent in poor mental health would fall from 24.9 to 19.2%. 2 tables, 1 figure, and 14 references.

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