New government data (PDF) reveals a continuing trend of declining marriage rates. More women have never been married, and cohabitation rates have increased steadily. And more children are born outside of marriage than ever before.

The consequences of these trends include lower economic prosperity for families and an  array of poorer outcomes for children.

Tragically, as marriage declines, even the very physical safety for women and children is compromised. Research reveals that both unmarried women (PDF) and children (PDF) living in family settings other than with their biological, married parents are at far greater risk of experiencing domestic abuse.

The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that never-married women are over four times as likely to be a victim of domestic violence compared to married women. (Never-married women are also much more likely (PDF) to be victims of violent crimes besides domestic abuse, including rape.)

Additionally, children living outside of married, biological-parent homes have a far greater probability of experiencing physical and sexual abuse. Most notably, children living with a single parent and the parent’s romantic partner are approximately 10 times as likely to be physically abused and 20 times as likely to be sexually abused. Even children living with both biological parents are at heightened risk of physical abuse (over four times as likely) and sexual abuse (nearly five times as likely) if their parents are not married.

As marriage rates decline, more women and children are exposed to living situations that jeopardize their safety. As policymakers look to ways to address violence against women,  rather than expanding top-down approaches of questionable effectiveness, efforts to promote and strengthen marriage are critical.