Just Living Together: Implications of Cohabitation on Families, Children, and Social Policy

By Alan Booth; Ann C. Crouter | Go to book overview

8
The Implications of Cohabitation for Children's
Well-Being
Wendy D. Manning
Bowling Green State Universig

Research examining the well-being of children often relies on the parents' marital status as a way to understand the context in which children are raised. Marital status provides information about the potential number of caretakers and may imply certain characteristics or qualities of the child's family life. The importance of parents' marital status is reflected in the extensive research attention to the implications of the end of marriage on children's well-being. This emphasis on marital status was appropriate when relatively few children ever lived in cohabiting unions. However, the shift in children's experience in cohabitation requires that cohabitation be considered in new research on child well-being (Bumpass & Lu, 2000). Currently, there are relatively few published papers on this topic but it is an emerging research arena evidenced in part by a growing number of national conference presentations on the topic.

This new recognition of cohabitation forces researchers to consider not only whether cohabitation influences child outcomes but also what matters about cohabitation. Much of the literature is based on the structural questions of the benefits or costs of being raised by one parent versus two parents or married versus unmarried parents. However, it may be more important to consider the nature of the parents' relationship or parenting practices rather than simply focus on the number of parents. Here I review the recent literature with the goal of providing direction for a new research agenda on cohabitation and child Well-being.

This chapter is divided into four sections. I begin with a basic discussion of the trends in cohabitation as a family living arrangement for children. Next, I discuss why cohabitation may influence child outcomes. Then I review findings from empirical research that specifically focuses on the effect of cohabitation on children's social and economic well-being. Finally, I present limitations and challenges for future work on the effects of cohabitation on children.


COHABITATION AS A FAMILY STRUCTURE

Traditionally, cohabitation has been viewed as a childless union that only affects adults, but cohabitation frequently involves children (U. S. Bureau of the Census, 1999). The U. S. Bureau of the Census draws on Current Population Survey data

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