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Unmarried cohabitation tends to be ‘fragile and short lived’, says Christian think tank

Married couples more than ten times as likely to stay together until their child is 16, claims report

The Jubilee Centre, an independent think tank which offers a Christian perspective on current trends and social issues, has published a report – Cohabitation in the 21st Century – providing an up-to-date analysis of cohabitation statistics. Dr John Hayward and Dr Guy Brandon, the authors of the report, have used 29,065 cases, drawn from British Household Panel Survey Consolidated Marital, Cohabitation and Fertility Histories, which contain data up to 2006/7.

The authors find that cohabitation is generally short-lived. Couples live together for a mean of three years, with almost a half separating before two years. Cohabitation, they say, is a less stable form of relationship today than it was 15 years ago. Less than a quarter of first cohabitations last five years and just one in nineteen of all cohabiting couples (5.3 per cent) has been together for ten years or more.

This, according to the report, is particularly pronounced for those couples with children. The proportion of couples still cohabiting by the time their first child is 16 has dropped more than five-fold over 14 years. In contrast, over the same period, marriage has become a more stable family background for children. So, married couples are now more than ten times as likely to stay together until their child is 16 – 75 per cent, compared with just 7 per cent of cohabiting ones.

The authors state that couples who cohabit for the first time and then marry are 60 per cent more likely to divorce than those who have not first lived together. The marriages of people who do not cohabit before marriage tend to last an average of four years longer than those who do cohabit before getting married – 13 years compared with 9 years.

The report concludes that, in view of the cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown, the Law Commission must consider the financial implications of any recommendation that encourages couples to cohabit since it is associated with a serious risk of separation and associated private and public costs.

The report can be downloaded free here.