A new study shows that for low-income couples, moving into separate homes doesn't necessarily mean a breakup. And staying together — even if they don't live together — can be good for the kids.
ScienceDaily reports that study author Claire Kamp Dush and her team looked at 1,624 unmarried moms who were living with their babies' dads, and followed these families for five years. Sixty-four percent of the couples quit living together within that five-year period. But of those, only 75% actually ended their romantic relationships. Black moms were more likely than white or Hispanic ones to keep a relationship going after moving out. Couples that lasted post-move also tended to share relationship "investments" — like a joint checking account or credit card — and to have low levels of "family chaos," like childcare difficulties or repeated moves. Says Kamp Dush,
When people have studied the end of cohabiting relationships, they have generally assumed that it would end in marriage or end in a permanent breakup. But there seems to be a significant proportion who no longer live together, but aren't completely giving up on being a couple.
Conservatives are likely to decry this news as yet more evidence that the American Family is going to shit. But parents staying together, even in separate households, could actually be good news for their kids. This shouldn't be a big surprise — Kamp Dush explains, "Children whose parents are still romantically involved are going to see the parent they don't live with more often, and that's generally good. Research has shown that father involvement is beneficial for children, and that involvement is one benefit we could see if couples continue a romantic relationship even after they stop living together."
The study didn't focus on couples' own feelings about their relationships, so it's not clear whether they were satisfied with apart-but-together relationships. And obviously if these are just cases of one partner being unwilling to commit, that can't be great fun for the other one. It's also true that if parents live apart, it may be harder for them to share childcare expenses — and certainly tougher to share the financial burdens of rent and household maintenance. That said, there are plenty of reasons couples might choose to live apart, even if they have kids. And for those who've made this choice, it makes sense to help them support the family they've made, rather than trying to shove them back into the same house. Kamp Dush points out that job flexibility and good childcare can help minimize the problems that break couples apart: "If a mother can't change her work schedule to deal with sick kids or other issues, it just adds to the chaos of their family life. And more chaos means it is less likely they will stay romantically connected to their partners." Bottom line: we can help kids by reducing the upheaval in their parents' lives, whether they live together or not.
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