Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

January 28, 1999

Grand Rapids Press January 25, 1999

Living Together Risky for Young Women and Children
Roger Sider, M.D.

Far too many women and children in our community are victimized by
domestic violence each year. The increasing toll of this social
blight has been blamed on poverty, the ready availability of guns,
alcohol and substance abuse, the glorification of violence by
Hollywood, and by the persistence of a "macho" stereotype that equates
masculinity with power, control, and domination.

Yet there is growing evidence that an additional factor is at work
here: the large increase in young couples living together. Recent
studies from Canada, Great Britain, and here in the United States all
point to the same conclusion. Young women who live in a cohabiting
relationship with a male put themselves and their children at
significant risk of violence and abuse.

The evidence is convincing. Five U.S. studies found a one and one
half to two times greater frequency of domestic violence among
cohabiting couples than among married couples. Statscan, a Canadian
government agency, reported "in a one year period, one in every five
women who live in common law is assaulted- and those with male
partners under 25 are at most risk." A recent British study found
that child abuse was twenty times more common in cases where the
mother was cohabiting with a man other than her husband. When we
consider that before 1960, cohabitation was relatively uncommon and
that by the mid 1990s more than 50 percent of young couples were
choosing to cohabit either before or in place of marriage, it should
be no surprise that the incidence of domestic violence has increased.

Couples often explain that living together saves money and is a good
way to learn whether they are compatible enough for marriage. Men,
who more frequently want to avoid long-term commitments than women do,
are attracted by the benefits of female companionship without the
obligations of marriage.

The facts indicate, however, that living together may not be such a
good idea after all. Studies show that, on average, cohabiting
couples have more conflict in their relationship, are less sexually
fulfilled, and are less likely to have stable, satisfying marriages if
they do marry. When we add to these facts the sobering new findings
that cohabitation increases the risk of domestic violence, it suggests
that we should re-think the current view that living together is just
one of several available life-style choices.

Our community is right to condemn domestic violence, to punish those
who offend and to provide shelter and care for the victims. But we
need to do more by way of prevention. One step is to get the word
out. Cohabitation is risky- especially to young women and children.
If a man isn't husband material or if he refuses to marry, it may not
be a good idea to live with him either.

Dr. Sider is Executive Director of the Pine Rest Family Institute
and Vice-Chair of the Greater Grand Rapids Community Marriage Policy.

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