As surely as spring arrives later this month, wedding season won’t be far behind. But the peal of wedding bells signifies more than just the formalization of a relationship, according to new data from Global Family and Gender Survey (GFGS). Meanwhile, separately released Statistics Canada numbers also shed light on the issue. In short, there are sharp differences in family life satisfaction and perceived relationship stability between married and cohabiting parents.
Marriage is closely related with family life satisfaction. While 62 per cent of married parents with children under 18 reported being very satisfied with their family lives, the GFGS finds just 48 per cent of cohabiting parents say the same. This satisfaction gap is evident in other Anglosphere countries, with Australians very similar to Canadians.
Why might there be a gap in family life satisfaction between married parents and those living common-law?
In a word: stability.
Saying, “I do,” makes a difference. Marriage requires a declaration of commitment. Romantic partners who cohabit do so for a variety of reasons and intentions. For some couples it’s a test relationship. For others it’s a matter of convenience and a good-for-now arrangement. Others are committed for the long-term. Despite the growth in common-law relationships, now accounting for 18 per cent of all census families, cohabitation remains more prone to break-up than marriage. Newly released Statistics Canada data has found that of couples in a relationship lasting 30 years or more, almost eight in 10 are married. Just 22 per cent are living common-law. While this points to the predominance of married partnerships, it also speaks to the stability of marriage.
Although many Canadians continue to marry, many think of marriage as nice, but not needed. A 2018 Angus Reid Institute survey found that 53 per cent of respondents reported that, “marriage is simply not necessary.” Marriage has become one option among many. Yet the same survey found that 57 per cent of respondents agreed that marriage is “a more genuine form of commitment than a common-law relationship.”
The greater risk of break-up among cohabiting parents also shows up in the GFGS. Cohabiting Canadian parents were more likely to report they had serious doubts about the future of their relationship with their partner in the previous 12 months. In fact, just over a third (34 per cent) of cohabiting parents expressed this concern compared to just 22 per cent of married parent respondents. Experiencing serious doubts about a partnership may explain lower levels of satisfaction with family life.