Folks inside and outside the church are known to ask the question “Why not?” when discussing the idea of living together prior to marriage (or simply outside of marriage altogether). Such a choice is often defended by suggesting that there is a benefit from “getting to know each other” prior to making a major commitment. Obviously, from the perspective of the church there is no half-step toward marriage. Few of us are naïve enough to believe that a man and woman who live together will refrain from sexual relations and so we assume that living together implies a sexual relationship outside the boundaries of scripture. Simply put, no one believes that you can “live together” without committing sin in the eyes of God.
None of that is news. Most people, whether they attend church or not, know that this is the position of the church. What’s new is that the Bible and the church aren’t the only ones suggesting that living together might be a bad idea and it’s the new voice that you might find surprising… the federal government. Some years ago federal research revealed that women who had even one abortion had nearly double the risk of cervical cancer but that news was politically unpopular and got little press. Likewise, I suspect that you will not hear the Surgeon General say this at a press conference any time soon, nor do I expect to hear this from any major news outlets.
The news that I read today was on Jim Daly’s (Jim Daly is the President of Focus on the Family) blog, Finding Home. Dr. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Virginia is a researcher who has studied and written extensively on “marriage, parenthood, and cohabitation, and on the ways that gender, religion, and children influence the quality and stability of American marriages and family life.” (from the UVA website) Dr. Wilcox has been analyzing a recent federal study on marriage and finds some truly startling statistics. I have asked Focus on the Family for the name of the study – I will let you know if hear anything
The data tells us that, at least if you have children, living together is far more dangerous than being married. According to Dr. Wilcox:
"...children living with their mother and her boyfriend are about 11 times more likely to be sexually, physically, or emotionally abused than children living with their married biological parents. Likewise, children living with their mother and her boyfriend are six times more likely to be physically, emotionally, or educationally neglected than children living with their married biological parents.”
The church (and society, generally) has long held that it was best for a child to be raised by both a mother and a father whenever possible. This research indicates that this is true when that man and woman are married. In the words of Dr. Wilcox, “one of the most dangerous places for a child in America to find himself in is a home that includes an unrelated male boyfriend--especially when that boyfriend is left to care for a child by himself."
No one is saying that women who live with an unmarried partner are bad parents. Neither do I suggest that single parents have it easy and that living together doesn’t solve problems related to finance, child care and time management. What these findings do suggest is that single women with children should consider such living arrangements with great care because there is a significant risk to their children. Although I am certain that the federal government will not draw the obvious conclusion, I will. Marriage does make a difference and the commitment represented by a simple piece of paper does mean something.
Startling news, because of its source.
Scripturally, not at all surprising.