Shouldn't we just normalise cohabitation?

Well educated liberals like those who run The Washington
’s Slate blog are highly likely to be married, according to research by the
National Marriage Project that we
recently, which suggests that they understand the benefits of commitment.
So why don’t they want those a step or two down the social scale -- who are
increasingly postponing marriage -- to enjoy those benefits?

Slate’s Hanna Rosin, quoted by family scholar David Lapp on
the Family
Scholars blog
, says cohabitation is only a problem because it is not normal
yet: “If we would do a better job of legitimizing cohabitation, that would be
much better than constantly telling people to get married.”

Haven’t we heard this sort of thing before? Gay people only
have more health and relationship problems because they are not accepted by
society. Cannabis is only a problem because it is illegal. Allow gays to marry
and cannabis smokers to buy their joints as they would a jug of beer, and
bingo, their problems would be no greater than anyone else’s. Act as though
20-somethings just living together are no different to a married couple, and
the break-up rates will soon be just the same.

Actually, I would have thought that cohabitation had already
achieved that level of social tolerance. Where are the editorials, homilies and
judicial statements denouncing it? Where is Al Gore’s biting doco drama on its
evils? Who will not let an apartment to unmarried couples or have them to stay
under their own roof? Not many.

Here’s an anecdote from New Zealand: A couple of British 19-year-olds
(boy and girl) had booked a motel unit near Auckland’s rugby park for the Rugby
World Cup which is less than a fortnight away from kick-off, now. But the
owners of the motel suddenly upped the price of the unit so that the couple (as
they appear to be) could not afford it. The mum of one of them was upset. The New Zealand Herald put their plight on
the front page. Kiwis were ashamed and there were a couple of dozen offers of
alternative accommodation; an old pensioner even said they could stay with him
-- but they accepted a better offer. One likes to be nice to visitors, but
really, do we have to help a couple of youngsters to shack up?

Anyway, back to Slate. Notice that we would have to wait for the
results of Rosin’s theory to be proved, which will take a generation, say, and
in the meantime the children born and raised in these relationships will
continue to be exposed what the evidence already shows: compared with married
families, a higher risk of family breakdown, economic disadvantage, neglect and even abuse.

David Lapp also points out:

Behind assertions like this is a naive view that the poor
and working classes cohabit merely because they’re the equivalent of European
bohemians who are done with marriage.

Which is not the case: 75 percent of least educated
Americans and 76 percent of moderately educated Americans say that marriage is
“very important” or “one of the most important things” to them, says Lapp. He
and his wife Amber have interviewed a lot of working class young people and find that
they “desperately want a happy marriage”.

Besides, he says, “if we can make monogamous cohabitation a
norm, why can’t we make marriage a norm?”

Why indeed.


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