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Baby Before Marriage No Biggie, Study Finds

Photograph by Twenty20

It used to be that couples who had children before marriage had a higher rate of divorce than those approaching family life in the traditional way. Sociological research found this to be true, even when controlling for things like education, background, race and income.

Not so anymore. A new large-scale study, based on data from lots of smaller studies, found that marital status did not predict whether couples with kids were at a higher risk of breaking up.

In a study published by the Council on Contemporary Families, Kelly Muisick, Cornell University associate professor, found that the risk of divorce for couples who married after having their first child was no longer higher for couples who lived together, then married, then had a kid than it was for couples who never lived together before getting married and starting a family.

However, couples who lived together and had kids but never married were still at higher risk of splitting up than those who married. About 30 percent of couples who never married separated within five years, a breakup rate that is twice as high as that found among married couples.

But it doesn't follow that society should pressure more couples into getting married. The study's authors point out that couples with kids who never married tend to have less education and income than married couples, which could be factors contributing to stress in the relationship that leads to a break-up. "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."

Unstable homes can impact children negatively, but as the authors found marriage isn't the answer. Rather, creating policies that alleviate the stressors in relationships—particularly financial ones related minimum wage, affordable housing, affordable education and debt relief—may lead to more marriage and home stability.

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