A recent Gallup poll found that, for the first time, a majority of Americans think that the government should not promote traditional values.

This opinion regarding the government’s role reflects a general rise in relativism and a social environment in which upholding clear standards is characterized as being judgmental and intolerant.

But the standards we uphold and the values we embrace have real world consequences.

In the arena of sexual behavior and relationship commitment, the results of a retreat from traditional values are dramatically manifest. As documented in a comprehensive study by the National Marriage Project, cohabitation has increased 14-fold since 1970, with more than 7.5 million unmarried couples living together. More than half of young adults who are in their 20s will enter into at least one cohabiting relationship.

Such life choices have consequences. Compared to married couples, cohabiting couples tend to report poorer relationship quality and less psychological and financial well being. In particular, couples who enter a cohabiting relationship without being engaged or clearly committed to each other tend to experience lower levels of satisfaction in a subsequent marriage and, correspondingly, are more likely to divorce.

Currently, more than 2.5 million children are living in cohabiting households—a 12-fold increase since the 1970s. Today, 20 percent of children are born to cohabiting couples, and 40 percent of children in America will spend some time in a cohabiting household.

This trend has negative implications for children. Parental cohabitation is associated with a greater likelihood of behavioral problems among young people. A study from the University of Texas at Austin found that teens living in a cohabiting stepfamily were more than twice as likely to use drugs compared to teens living in an intact married family—even after controlling for differences in income, education, race, and family instability.

In addition, federal data reveal that children in cohabiting households are at greater risk of being victims of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse than peers living with married biological parents.

Children born to a cohabiting mother are nearly three times more likely to experience parental separation by the time they are 12 years old, another factor that puts them at risk for declined well being. Studies have shown that children who experience family-structure transitions are more likely to exhibit anti-social behavior and emotional problems. Compared with peers who have experienced parental divorce, children in intact families tend to fare better on a spectrum of outcomes ranging from emotional well-being and academic achievement to delinquency, substance abuse, and sexual activity.

Not all values are created equal. Upholding standards that protect the well being of children and families is crucial to promoting a strong and thriving society.