The Monitor's View

Listen to the kids of Brad and Angelina

Cohabiting couples such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are on the increase, but studies show children of unmarried parents too often suffer – more than kids of divorce. No wonder the children of Brangelina want them to marry.

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    Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie arrive for the Gala Premier of his film 'Money Ball' at the Toronto International Film Festival in Toronto, on Sept. 9.
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In a recent interview, Brad Pitt admitted that he and cohabiting partner Angelina Jolie are “getting a lot of heat from the kids” to get married.

“I hope we can hold out,” he said.

That pressure on the Brangelina supercouple from their children is a telling comment on the state of marriage in America. According to a report last month, children are now more likely to be exposed to a cohabiting union than a parental divorce.

Only 1 in 4 kids by age 12 will see his or her married parents split up, while more than 4 out of 10 children now live with a cohabiting parent. The reason? Divorce rates have been in decline while the number of cohabiting couples has risen 14-fold in the last four decades.

For children in such homes, life is not only less stable but dangerous, states the report by the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. They are three times more likely to be abused than children living with biological/married parents. And the rate of breakups of cohabiting couples with children is 170 percent higher than that of married couples with children.

This trend in cohabitation will only increase as the economy bounces along at near-zero growth. Americans with a high school degree or less tell pollsters that they want to marry but cannot afford the costs of matrimony. Yet many of the women in that situation have children anyway.

The 2007-09 recession and the drawn-out recovery are damaging the relationships of couples and children, especially low- and middle-income folks. The average age of marriage keeps rising as young people can’t find jobs. More couples move in with each other for financial reasons. And married folks who want to split are holding off, fearing the costs in lost housing and retirement benefits. The number of unmarried Americans is the highest in six decades.

Creating stability for children should be as much of a national concern as creating jobs. Many federal programs, such as housing aid, actually encourage couples to stay unmarried in order to enjoy certain benefits. If they marry, they lose eligibility.

President Obama (who knows what it is like to be a child of divorce) seems to support efforts to improve the state of marriage in America. In his book “The Audacity of Hope,” he wrote: “Policies that strengthen marriage for those who choose it and that discourage unintended births outside of marriage are sensible goals to pursue.”

But for real advice, just ask the children of cohabiting couples what they prefer. Brad Pitt revealed as much. They probably want the solid foundation of married parents.

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