An increasing number of Canadian couples are choosing to live together rather than marry. Is this simply a benign cultural shift or does marital status have implications for families and children?
IMFC Research Fellow, Dr. Frank Jones pursues this question, using data from Statistics Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth. The research examines children of married and cohabiting parents at age six to eleven and again eight years later at age fourteen to nineteen, measuring responses to forty attitudes and behaviours based on family form.
The study finds that teens with cohabiting parents when younger are more likely to:
- sell drugs
- engage in sexual intercourse
- have a lower age of sexual initiation
- have poor relationships with their mom and dad
- have parents who do not get along
The study further explores the hypothesis that children of cohabiting couples are at a three-fold disadvantage because:
- Cohabiting couples are more likely to be younger and have less educational experience, collectively called human capital.
- Cohabiting couples are less likely to be committed to a long term union.
- Cohabiting unions are less committed to raising children.
Children of parents with higher levels of human capital including formal and informal education as well as religious affi liation were less likely to use substances, have sexual intercourse and more likely to delay sexual initiation and more likely to report being happier with life.
Children benefit when their parents are in a healthy, stable marriage. Public policy can help stabilize marriages by reducing fiscal stressors and by removing policies that act as disincentives towards marriage. Many of these challenges can be addressed through the tax system, particularly through programs that assist lower income Canadians.