There is an opportunity that hides in the shadow of a disturbing trend: the rapid increase in the number of children born to cohabiting parents. But before I share the opportunity, let's first look at the trend.
You're undoubtedly aware that births to unwed mothers is at an all-time high. (Indeed, we saw a 60% increase in all births to unmarried women between 1990 and 2013.) What you might not be as aware of is the primary driver of these births: the meteoric rise in unwed men and women who become parents and live together. In 2015, more than 3.3 million children lived with cohabiting parents, which is nearly triple the 1.2 million that lived in such families in 1996.
The National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University just released an analysis of these births. To tease out the influence of cohabitation, they compared these births in two groups of women--never married and previously married--during two time periods, 1990-1995 and 2006-2013. The difference is striking.
- Between 1990-1995, 62% of births to unwed mothers occurred to non-cohabiting mothers ("single" mothers) while 38% occurred to cohabiting mothers. That dynamic completely reversed by 2006-2013--62% of births occurred to cohabiting mothers while 38% occurred to non-cohabiting mothers.
- The change in these births to previously married mothers remained virtually unchanged. From 1990-1995, 38% of unwed births occurred to cohabiting mothers compared to 39% of births to these mothers in 2006-2013.
The problem with this trend--its shadow--is that children born to cohabiting parents don't fare as well, on average, compared to children born to married parents. So whether a child is born to an unwed single mother or an unwed cohabiting one, he or she will be at risk for a host of poor outcomes.
So what, then, is the good news here, the opportunity hidden in the shadow?
A greater proportion of children born to never-married cohabiting parents means a greater proportion of them live with their father!
I wrote in a post last week about the importance of serving working, resident fathers. Unmarried, cohabiting fathers are a vital part of this group. Unfortunately, children born to cohabiting parents stand a greater chance of their parents' relationship dissolving (thus most likely leaving them without their father) than do children born to married parents. You have the opportunity to increase the chance these children will continue to live with their father--or at least stay connected to them if the father-mother relationship dissolves--by helping the father to be the best dad possible. You also have the opportunity to help these couples work on their relationship, perhaps even leading some of them to marry.
All of us who work to reduce the proportion of children who grow up without their father face a daunting task. It's easy to become discouraged by trends that make our effort more difficult. Nevertheless, I encourage you to look at the opportunities that might lie hidden in the shadows of these trends.
Do you intentionally and proactively reach and serve cohabiting dads?
Do you help cohabiting couples improve their relationship for the benefit of them and their children?
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