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What's the impact on kids when parents don't marry?

The popular film "Kramer vs. Kramer" was released in 1979, around the peak of divorces in this country. The movie, starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep, was a hit and struck a chord with divorcing parents.

Since divorce rates peaked in the time that movie came out, one other number has increased drastically as divorces have fallen: the number of births to unwed mothers. According to NPR, 41 percent of all births are to unwed mothers, many of whom live with but are not married to the fathers.

It appears that many adult children of divorced parents may be hesitant to marry. Now, a new study out shows that children of cohabiting parents are actually at risk for a number of problems, including increased risk of poverty, psychological stress, school troubles and abuse.

Experts note that it may be the instability that is having a negative effect on kids. Another recent study shows that about a quarter of women in the United States who have multiple children conceived them with more than one partner. According to NPR, that kind of instability can lead to depression, as well as externalizing and internalizing disorders.

One expert notes that Americans are quick to rush into and out of relationships. Having a new caregiver can be traumatic to children.

Obviously, there are some perfectly healthy cohabiting relationships. But some are not as stable unions as they are in European countries, for some reason. Why is not clear, but the effect on children does seem evident.

Source: NPR, "Study: Are cohabiting parents bad for kids?," Jennifer Ludden, Aug. 16, 2011

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