Divorce

A Baby Before Marriage Doesn't Increase Divorce Risk, Study Finds

Couples are taking things at their own pace.

First comes love, then comes baby, then comes a higher risk of divorce should the couple marry? That may have been the case in the past, but it's not true today, a new report suggests.

Cohabiting couples who have a baby before getting married no longer face a higher risk of divorce than those those who marry before their first child, according to a report put out by the non-profit group Council on Contemporary Families Wednesday.

Researchers reviewed data collected by the National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) on women in marital and cohabiting relationships who had their first child between 1985 and 1995 and compared it to those who had their first child between 1997 and 2010. (They ended up with a sample of 2,656 couples from the 1995 NSFG and 3,046 from the 2006-2010 report.)

Couples who had a baby first and married later in the earlier period were 60 percent more likely to divorce than couples who married before they had their firstborn. A decade later, couples who married after having kids had no higher chance of breaking up than couples who married before having kids.

So what changed between the 1985-1995 group and the 1997-2010 group? For starters, there's less societal pressure for couples who conceive first to rush into marriage right away, said lead researcher Kelly Musick, an associate professor of policy analysis and management.

"Living together has become a common part of the family landscape in the U.S. and many advanced industrialized countries," she told The Huffington Post. "There is less pressure nowadays to marry and more leeway in how to organize family life."

She added: "Many couples may be jointly planning marriage and childbirth as the quality and commitment of their relationships grow, with little regard to which comes first."

With each group, Musick and her team controlled for socio-demographic factors (like education and income level) that drive up the risk of divorce.

The only cohabiting parents with a significantly higher chance of splitting up were those who never married. Controlling for socio-demographic factors, Musick and her team found 30 percent of the couples who cohabited but never wed separated within five years.

But as Musick notes in the study briefing, in general, cohabiting couples that never marry tend to have lower incomes and less education than married couples -- and it could be that those who opt not to marry may split up for those reasons instead.

"It is not at all clear that if we could magically assign these cohabiting couples to marry, their family relationships would be more stable," Musick writes. "Marriage is less a silver bullet than it is an outcome of a whole set of factors linked to stability and security that help parents stay together."

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