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CDC: More Babies Being Born to Unmarried Cohabiting Couples

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As the twin stigmas of “living in sin” and bearing children out of wedlock recede from the broader culture, more children than ever are being born to unwed parents who live together.

A new report, released by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics last Thursday, shows women are delaying marriage and moving in with their significant others in greater numbers than ever before.

And as cohabitation rates increase, so too do the numbers of children being born to cohabiting couples.

A full 23 percent of all births within the past five years have been to non-married cohabiting women, according to the CDC report "First Premarital Cohabitation in the United States," which focused on male-female relationships.

Nearly 20 percent of those pregnancies occur within a year of a woman moving in with someone for the first time, up from 15 percent in 1995.

Plus: Why More Parents Are Choosing Cohabitation Over Marriage

“It’s not so much that single, un-partnered women are having babies. Much of the recent rise we’ve seen in unmarried child-bearing is really due to first-time cohabiting couples,” Susan Brown, a demographer at the Bowling Green State University, tells Parenting.com.

“This is part of the broader trend of the retreat from marriage. Cohabitation is increasingly giving marriage a run for its money.”

Brown points to research that suggests that when confronted with an unplanned pregnancy, more couples than ever opt to move in together, rather than get married. Cheekily, she calls this phenomenon the rise of the “shotgun cohabitation.”

“Overall when you actually look at all women in a first premarital cohabiting union, 30 percent get pregnant at some point,” Casey Copen, the lead author of the CDC’s report tells Parenting.com. 

Between 2006 and 2010, 48 percent of women between the ages of 15 and 44 moved in for the first time with a man to whom they weren't married, according to Copen’s report. In 2002, it was 43 percent. In 1995, it was 34 percent.

That's one in four women living with a man by age 20 and almost three in four by 30, according to the report.

Plus: The Married Single Mom

“Some people take it that less marriage is happening as a result, but that’s not necessarily true,” she says. “By age 30, 68 percent of women had married. By 35 that number was 78 percent. That hasn’t changed over time. Marriage isn’t foregone. It’s just delayed.”

Although divorce rates have tapered off in recent decades, couples who lived together before getting married tend to split up at higher rates.

"Couples say that they need to kick the tires a little before settling down," Dr. Brad Wilcox, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, and director of the Marriage Matters Project, told the conservative non-profit Focus on the Family.

"But what they don't understand is that once you adopt a consumer mentality, you undercut marriage and open yourself up to marital breakup and unhappiness."

By the age of 16, a full 40 percent of children will have at some point lived with a cohabiting couple – either their biological parents or some form of a cohabiting step-family.

“These relationships do tend to be less stable than marriage,” says Brown. “So what this means is that more children in the United States are experiencing increased instability, or some sort of living arrangement transitions in childhood.”

What do you think of these new numbers? Have you had any children before getting married, but while you lived together as a couple? Share your experience with us

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