You are on page 1of 4

born to unmarried mothers.

This includes 70
Cohabitation: Why Not? percent of African American children, 48
percent of Hispanic children, and 25 percent
by Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D of non-Hispanic whites.43
The Third section of the book, Women, Sex Rather than regale the reader with statistics,
& the Church: A Case for Catholic let me tell the story of a hypothetical young
Teaching, called Multiple Partner Fertility: woman named Lucy. Not all of the
A Distinctive Problem of the Underclass is outcomes that happen to Lucy happen to
reprinted here: each and every unmarried mother. Lucy’s
story is a composite of the outcomes that are
Many women view living together as a systematically more likely to happen to
stepping-stone toward marriage, with the unmarried women, or to cohabiting women,
idea that cohabiting will help them enjoy a than to married women. (I have omitted the
better marriage in the future. This could not hazards associated with drugs and alcohol,
be further from the truth. A recent survey of so as not to cloud the marriage issue.)
the literature on cohabitation concluded, Telling Lucy’s story illustrates what
“No positive contribution of cohabitation to multiple partner fertility looks like in the
marriage has ever been found.”40 lives of ordinary people of modest means.
Not only is cohabitation not good Lucy has graduated from high school, has a
preparation for marriage, it is not a good job as a dental assistant, and lives with her
long-run alternative to marriage. Cohabiting boyfriend, Izzy. Lucy becomes pregnant. It
relationships are less stable than marriage, isn’t entirely clear whether this is an
and this instability creates a whole series of “accidental” pregnancy. She has been on the
problems. Demographers have come up with Pill, but she missed one or two. (The failure
a new term to describe this situation. They rate for the Pill for low-income, cohabitating
call it “multiple partner fertility.”41 women younger than twenty is 48
percent.)44
We can get an idea of the magnitude of this
problem with one statistic: of all unmarried Lucy is glad to be pregnant. She has always
urban mothers with more than one child, wanted to be a mother. Izzy isn’t so happy.
almost 70 percent exhibit multiple partner He isn’t ready to be a father. Pregnancy was
fertility; that is, they have children by more not part of the deal. He feels cheated. They
than one man.42 quarrel frequently, and he sometimes hits
her. (Domestic violence is more common in
The children of racial minorities are more cohabiting couples than in married
likely to be born to unmarried mothers. In couples.)45
2005, 37 percent of all U.S. children were
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078
www.jennifer-roback-morse.com • email: drj@jennifer-roback-morse.com • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
As her pregnancy proceeds, Lucy becomes court has ordered. (Cohabiting men earn half
less and less interested in sex, and Izzy the income of married men.)50 In the
becomes less and less interested in her. He meantime, Izzy does not feel like working at
has sex with a former girlfriend. (Cohabiting a normal job with a normal payroll, since his
couples are more likely to have “secondary wages are garnished for Anna’s care. He
sex partners.”)46 He feels entitled, since he works under the table at informal jobs,
isn’t “getting any” from Lucy, and after all, keeping for himself the little income he
she cheated him by becoming pregnant in makes.
the first place. They quarrel some more, and
he moves out for a while. By the time baby Lucy moves back in with her mother.
Anna is born, Izzy has moved back in with Everything goes smoothly until Lucy
Lucy. becomes lonely. She becomes involved with
Tom, who has a decent job and thinks Lucy
Now Lucy isn’t so happy. In fact, she is pretty and the baby is cute. Lucy leaves
becomes depressed. (The presence of her mom and moves in with Tom.
children increases a cohabiting woman’s
probability of depression. Children do not Lucy becomes pregnant again. Tom
affect a married woman’s probability of becomes less and less tolerant of Anna, who
becoming depressed.)47 Izzy is caught up in is a toddler by this time, but Tom is very
the excitement for a while. But the happy when their new baby is a boy. Of
combination of sleep deprivation, a needy course, baby John takes much time and
infant, and a preoccupied and depressed energy from both Anna and Tom. Anna feels
Lucy are more than Izzy can handle. He neglected, cries a lot, and misbehaves.
moves out for good when Anna is six
months old. (Cohabiting relationships are Lucy is exhausted. Tom helps her with the
less stable than married relationships.)48 He new baby, but he is not interested in Anna.
never offers to contribute support to the care Both parents begin to show a preference for
of Anna. (Never-married fathers are much little John. (Men spend less time with their
less likely to pay child support than fathers partners’ children than with their own
who were once married to the child’s biological children. The presence of a
mother.)49 Lucy finds that she can’t handle stepfather decreases the time a mother
the demands of her job and the care of her spends with her children.)51 Anna’s
baby by herself. She goes to court to try to behavior deteriorates. Lucy and Tom quarrel
get Izzy to pay child support. about Anna’s poor behavior.

The court orders him to pay an amount that One night, Lucy takes baby John and Anna
is nowhere near enough for Anna’s needs. and slips out. She goes back to her mother.
He does not have a very good job, so Lucy Tom is furious. He wants her back, and he
seldom collects even the small amount the wants his son back. Lucy refuses. She gets a
Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078
www.jennifer-roback-morse.com • email: drj@jennifer-roback-morse.com • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
court order for child support; he gets a court By this time Anna is in first grade, and she
order for visitation rights. He is trying to be frequently misbehaves in school. Lucy gets
a good father, as he understands it. His visits a call from the principal, Mr. Knowles. He
with his son are anguished. The little boy tells Lucy that he is concerned about Anna.
doesn’t understand what is happening. He Mr. Knowles thinks Anna needs a father
wants to go home with his daddy. (Parental figure, and would benefit from counseling.
divorce increases a boy’s probability of (Fatherless girls become sexually active
depression, regardless of the quality of earlier than girls who are with their
parenting. Nothing seems to compensate for fathers.)56 They also get their periods
the sense of sadness that boys experience at earlier.57
the loss of their fathers from the home.)52
Lucy gets angry and says there is nothing
Meanwhile, Lucy finds a new boyfriend, wrong with her daughter. Her boyfriend Joe
Joe. She, Anna, and Johnny move in with is a perfectly fine father figure. In her heart,
him. You guessed it: she gets pregnant though, she knows all is not well with Anna.
again. The new boyfriend does not like little The girl still wets the bed almost every
John, the reminder of Lucy’s past night. Joe complains about the odor, and
relationship with Tom. One day while Lucy makes fun of her. Lucy can’t really stand up
is at work, Joe slaps John. Lucy asks him to him. She doesn’t want to lose him, and
how Joe got a bruise on his thigh. Joe says she needs his income.
he fell. Lucy wants to believe him. The
second time she comes home to find a new Little Anna is on course for abusing drugs
bruise on Johnny, Joe admits that he slapped and alcohol, for teen pregnancy, and for a
him. (Children are more likely to be abused lifetime of multiple partner fertility
by their mother’s boyfriend than by anyone herself.58 Little Johnny is at a higher risk
else.)53 According to one study, children for violence, delinquency, and drug use.59 If
living in a household with an unrelated adult Lucy had married one of those men and
are fifty times more likely to die of inflicted stuck with him, her life chances and those of
injuries than children living with two her children would be greatly enhanced.
biological parents.54 Some of her children might have had the
problems associated with stepfamilies, but at
At the same time, Anna’s behavior is least the subsequent children would have the
deteriorating. She hasn’t seen her own father benefit of both parents married to each
since infancy. Neither Tom nor Joe has been other. Without marriage, the fathers of
very interested in Anna. (Children in Lucy’s children are unlikely to contribute
cohabiting stepparent households are more much, if anything, to the care of their
likely to feel sad and lonely, and have children.
poorer self-control.)55

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078
www.jennifer-roback-morse.com • email: drj@jennifer-roback-morse.com • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.
One might object that some of these All resources can be found in the book,
problems are associated with teen pregnancy Women, Sex & the Church: A Case for
and poverty. That is partly true. But the Catholic Teaching.
deeper truth is that channeling sexual
behavior and childbearing through marriage Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D. is an
creates wealth rather than dissipates it. Men economist and the Founder and President of
behave differently when they marry, and the Ruth Institute, a nonprofit educational
especially when they become married organization devoted to bringing hope and
fathers.60 encouragement for lifelong married love.
She is also the author of Love and
One might also object that Lucy’s case of Economics: It Takes a Family to Raise a
switching from partner to partner is extreme Village and Smart Sex: Finding Life-Long
and atypical. But once we jettison Love in a Hook-Up World.
permanence and exclusivity as serious social
norms, we are on weak ground in trying to
say that Lucy shouldn’t have ditched her
boyfriends quite so casually. If a husband is
an unnecessary accessory to childbearing,
why isn’t it okay to have multiple children,
each with different fathers? If one divorce
without cause is acceptable, why aren’t
multiple divorces? In other words, once
we’ve discarded Catholic principles,
alternative principles are not so obvious.

One might object that women of higher


income and education will not face as many
and as serious problems as Lucy. Perhaps a
more highly educated, wealthier woman
could cohabit, raise children, and do just
fine.

In some cases, this may prove to be correct.


After all, wealthier people have more
resources to face all kinds of life challenges
than those of lower income. Indeed, every
problem of the poor is exacerbated by the
failure of marriage.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse • 663 S. Rancho Santa Fe Road Suite 222 San Marcos CA 92078
www.jennifer-roback-morse.com • email: drj@jennifer-roback-morse.com • 760/295-9278
©2007 No part of this document may be reproduced or disseminated in any way without the expressed written consent of the
Ruth Institute.