by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: I have been living with my girlfriend for four years. We have one child and she is pregnant again. We live with her parents because housing is in short supply. My girlfriend has been after me since before we had a child to get married. She says it’s wrong not to be married, and she feels guilty all the time. I just don’t get it. Besides religious reasons, are there any reasons for getting married?
According to a report released August 16, 2011 by the Center for Marriage and Families, Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, marriage does matter. This scholarly report includes new findings on the impact of cohabitation and divorce on children and families. The report was chaired by Professor W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, and is co-authored by eighteen family scholars from leading institutions including the University of California at Berkeley, Brookings Institution, University of Chicago, Penn State, University of Minnesota, University of Texas at Austin, Urban Institute, and the University of Virginia.
The report states, “For most of the latter-half of the twentieth century, divorce posed the greatest threat to child well-being and the institution of marriage. Today, that is not the case. New research—made available for the first time in Why Marriage Matters—suggests that the rise of cohabiting households with children is the largest unrecognized threat to the quality and stability of children’s lives in today’s families.”
Interestingly, the divorce rate for married couples with children has returned to a rate comparable to a time prior to the sudden increase of divorce rate in the 1970s. Again, these scholars reported, “about 23% of children whose parents married in the early 1960s divorced by the time the children turned 10. More recently, slightly more than 23% of children whose parents married in 1997 divorced by the time the kids turned 10.” That is significantly less than that commonly reported 50% divorce rate. However, as previously noted, it’s not divorce, but cohabitating that is threatening the stability of children’s lives and the very fabric of society.
Getting back to your question, there appears to be a number of good reasons to marry. In addition to peace of mind and freedom from guilt for your girlfriend, your children’s future emotional and mental states are likely to be healthier with marriage. “In the U.S., the report finds that the breakup rate is 170% higher for children born to cohabiting couples up to age 12. Even in Sweden, children born to cohabiting couples are 70% more likely to see parents separate by age 15, compared to children born to married parents.” Also, “Federal data shows that children are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused in cohabiting households, compared to children in intact, biological married parent homes. They are also significantly more likely to experience delinquency, drug use, and school failure.”
If you would like more information, I encourage you to obtain a copy of the book, Why Marriage Matters by W. Bradford Wilcox. I just checked and it’s available through Amazon.
Since we are on this subject, I would like address the parents that are allowing young couples to live together unmarried in their homes. Instead of sanctioning cohabitation, why not promote the benefits of marriage. Instead of delaying marriage to some “better” time in the future, why not develop a culture that gets excited about young couples that wants to marry. Instead of accepting as normal the birth of an illegitimate child under your roof, promote marriage before the children are conceived and birthed.
It struck me the other day that the old children’s teasing song had the order correct, “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Susie with the baby carriage.” Research now demonstrates that if that order is followed, children are significantly more likely to do better in school, and experience less delinquency.
Also, I would like to address the clergy. I am aware that many clergy require lengthy pre-marriage classes before allowing couples to marry. Instead of pre-marriage classes, why not provide post-marriage classes, especially in cases where the couples are already living together and/or have children together. Go one step further; help young couples navigate the process of obtaining a marriage license. Keep the forms available in your church and assist the couples with the process. Though the process is relatively simple, it can seem like “red tape,” especially when the couple lives in a village and the request for a license has to be sent to the courthouse in Bethel.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]