WASHINGTON, D.C., April 5, 2013 (Family Research Council) – Test driving a car might be a good idea, but a marriage? Forget it. The National Center for Health Statistics says more couples are living together than ever–and the outlook for society isn't exactly rosy. Believe it or not, almost half of women are choosing cohabitation–not marriage–as their “first union.” Casey Copen, the study's lead author, thinks this is the new norm for America, since only 23% of the same age group (15-44) is opting to marry first. Asian Americans were the only population that didn't show a spike in “trial marriages,” while 57% more Hispanics, 43% more whites, and 39% more blacks all felt the cohabiting boom. “It's kind of a ubiquitous phenomenon now,” Copen tells reporters.

And while more couples are having trouble committing to each other, they don't seem to have the same trouble agreeing to kids. Almost 20% of women are giving birth in the first year of cohabiting. But unfortunately for these children, very few of their parents are sticking together. After 22 months, most partners go their separate ways. Within the first three years, Copen points out, only 40% of these women make the leap to marriage.

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Of course, more people probably think they can shack up to avoid shaking up their finances. In 2010, with unemployment at historic highs, about a million new couples moved in together–a shift that analysts called “surprisingly large.” And surprisingly devastating, based on FRC's research. Although they may resemble spouses, cohabitors don't behave like them. Studies from our Marriage and Religious Research Institute (MARRI) show that these adults are less engaged in the economy because they don't marry. Cohabitation also crowds out marriage. When more people live together over time than marry, the effects on the nation and its economy are disastrous, because of all the attendant goods of marriage that are lost.

These unstable relationships are also incredibly unhealthy for kids. FRC's good friend Chuck Donovan wrote an extensive piece when he was with The Heritage Foundation on the rash of cohabitors. In it, he highlighted a study by Rutgers's David Popenoe, which found that nearly half of Britain's cohabiting couples with kids broke up in the first five years (compared to one in 12married couples with children). Research is clear: these couples are more likely to be unhappy, cheat, feel depressed, experience abuse, and divorce (if they ever do get married).

Unfortunately, if you want to fight the cohabiting explosion, don't expect help from the federal government. Instead of reversing the trend, President Obama is rewarding it! Under the latest tax deal, married couples are actually punished with higher premiums. For five years, marriage has taken a beating under this administration, which seems to have set its sights on penalizing, deemphasizing, and redefining the institution.

Of course, one of the biggest criticisms we hear from the same-sex “marriage” movement is that heterosexuals haven't done enough to strengthen their own unions. North Carolina leaders are doing their best to change that. The same state that voted to protect marriage last May is now moving to strengthen the ones they already have! A group of three state senators are pushing a bill called the Healthy Marriage Act that would require counseling, classes in communication skills and conflict resolution, and a longer waiting period for couples filing for divorce. Prompted in part by Mike McManus and our friends at the North Carolina Family Policy Council, the measure would ensure that couples have every resource at their disposal to save their marriages.

This article originally appeared on the Family Research Council and is reprinted with permission.