Nearly half of American children are now born to unmarried parents, according to a new report from the U.N.’s Population Fund, the largest international provider of sexual and reproductive health services.
In the report released Wednesday, America is cited along with several developed nations in Europe and Asia where women are giving birth later in life and outside marriage due to what some experts say is partly due to changing religious ideas about marriage. The trend is also correlated to fertility declines.
“Fertility decline between 1970 and 2000 coincided with trends toward later marriage and more cohabitation, divorce and childbearing outside marriage,” UNFPA researchers said.
“These trends, however, peaked in some countries, such as Sweden, the United States and Russia, and then reversed after 2004 (Figure 35). In the European Union, the share of births outside marriage reached 42 percent in 2014 — double the level in 1994.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported earlier this year that the U.S. birthrate fell for nearly every group of women of reproductive age in 2017, reflecting the fewest number of newborns since 1987.
Does living together before the wedding affect marriage in the long term? It’s unclear.
Several studies have found that cohabiting before making plans to marry can result in unhappy marriages and higher divorce rates than those who waited. This might be caused by couples “sliding” into marriage because it’s just too difficult to cut ties – and leave a home, furniture, and lower rent – even when they realize early on that the relationship isn’t great. Some studies found that couples who lived together before marriage were one-third more likely to divorce than those who did not.
However, other studies suggest that it’s not cohabitation that leads to marital misery, but rather, moving in together before reaching the emotional maturity to deal with a relationship. One study pinpointed that age to be 23.
The document guiding bishops during the synod says that “some pastoral approaches might include offering, from a young age, instruction on appreciating the beauty of marriage.” It also says couples who live together before marriage but abstain from sex have “witness value” for other Catholics.