THE FACTS BEHIND COHABITATION
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Families have changed in the last several decades. Instead of getting married, many people are living together or 'cohabiting'. Some of these cohabitating couples eventually get married. Many of them break up. Very few stay together as cohabitants for long. Is cohabitation a good alternative to marriage? Is it a good way to 'test out' the relationship? Many researchers have looked into these questions. In her book Marriage-Lite Patricia Morgan reviews the research into the results of cohabitation, compared with marriage, and finds that marriage is much more than 'just a piece of paper'. Marriage fundamentally changes the nature of a relationship, leading to many striking differences. How Cohabitation Differs from Marriage The Facts Living together leads to living alone In the mid-1960s, only five per cent of single women lived with a man before getting married. By the 1990s, about 70 per cent did so.l Some people think that living together will lead automatically to marriage, but that often is not the case. Many cohabitations break up. For many other couples, cohabitation is viewed as an alternative to marriage rather than a preparation for it. However, this alternative is less likely than marriage to lead to a long-term stable commitment. Stability Cohabiting relationships are fragile. They are always more likely to break up than marriages entered into at the same time, regardless of age or income. On average, cohabitations last less than two years before breaking up or converting to marriage. Less than four per cent of cohabitations last for ten years or more. 2 Cohabiting also influences later marriages. The more often and the longer that men and women cohabit, the more likely they are to divorce later. 3 Cheating Both men and women in cohabiting relationships are more likely to be unfaithful to their partners than married people. 4 Economics At all socio-economic levels, cohabiting couples accumulate less wealth than married couples. 5 Married men earn 10 to 40 percent more than single or cohabiting men, and they are more successful in their careers, particularly when they become fathers. 6 Married women without children earn about the same as childless single or cohabiting women. All women who take time out of employment to have children lose some earning power-whether they are married or not. 7 However, cohabiting and lone mothers often lack access to the father's income, making it more difficult to balance their caring responsibilities with their careers. Health Cohabitants have more health problems than married people, probably because cohabitants put up with behaviour in their partners which husbands and wives would discourage, particularly regarding smoking, alcohol and substance abuse. 8 Cohabitants are also much more likely to suffer from depression than married people. 9 Domestic violence Women in cohabiting relationships are more likely than wives to be abused. In one study, marital status was the strongest predictor of abuse-ahead of race, age, education or housing conditions. 10 The Effects on Children What happens to children born to cohabiting parents? Some people believe that if a cohabiting couple have children together, then they must be committed and stable. However, cohabitations with children are even more likely to break up than childless ones. 11 About 15 percent of one-parent families are created through the break-up of cohabiting unions. One study found that less than ten per cent of women who have their first child in a cohabiting relationship are still cohabiting ten years later. About 40 per cent will have married, but 50 percent will be lone unmarried mothers because their relationships have broken up. 12 Today, more than 20% of children are born to cohabiting couples. However, only about one third of those children will remain with both their parents throughout their childhood. That is partly because cohabiting couples who have children are even more likely to break up than childless couples, and partly because cohabiting couples who subsequently marry are more likely to divorce, and to divorce earlier. 13 All this means that children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to experience a series of disruptions in their family life, which can have negative consequences for their emotional and educational development. Children living with cohabiting couples do less well at school and are more likely to suffer from emotional problems than children of married couples. 14 Financially, children of cohabitants are less well off than children whose parents are married. Married fathers are more likely than cohabiting fathers to support their children. Even after the break-up of their parents' relationship, children of divorced parents are more likely than children of cohabiting couples who have split up to receive support from their fathers. 15 Unmarried fathers, even those cohabiting with their children's mother, do not automatically have the same parental rights as married or divorced fathers. If their parents break up, children born to cohabiting couples are less likely than children of divorced parents to maintain contact with their fathers. 16  NEXT
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