At the weekend it was reported that new data analysed by the Marriage Foundation shows that marriage is increasingly the preserve of the rich, with the wealthy being four times more likely to marry than the poor. Chairman of the Marriage Foundation Sir Paul Coleridge responded to the figures by warning that while children from poorer households might be “superficially better off materially than the previous generation”, they face increasing disadvantage compared to their better off peers.
For those who don’t know, the Marriage Foundation was established in 2012 with the aim of championing marriage, which it considers is the best way to achieve “healthy stable relationships”. In particular, the Foundation believes that parents who do not marry are more likely to separate, thereby diminishing the wellbeing and life chances of their children.
But is it really the act of entering into a marriage that improves the chances of a couple staying together? And taking the argument a step further, is it really true that a child’s life chances are improved if their parents are married?
The Marriage Foundation obviously considers that its new research supports its case, but to my mind it does exactly the opposite.
As I’ve said here previously:
“… of course marriages last longer, but this is not the result of the couples signing a piece of paper. The fact of the matter is that for social or economic reasons, the ‘type’ of couples that get married are the type of couples that are more likely to remain together. If your relationship is less likely to last, entering into a marriage will not change that.”
In other words, it is the poorer social and economic position of the couple that makes it more likely that their relationship will not endure, not the fact that they have not married. The Marriage Foundation’s figures prove that this is so: it is no coincidence that poorer couples are both less likely to marry and less likely to stay together.
As for the argument that a child’s life chances are improved if their parents are married this, as I have also said previously, has been debunked by research by the Institute of Fiscal Studies. The research found that children born to married parents do, indeed, achieve better outcomes, on average, than children born into other family forms, including cohabiting unions, but this is simply due to the fact that more affluent and better educated couples were more likely to get married. The Marriage Foundation’s latest figures obviously confirm this: poverty rather than the fact that their parents did not marry is what will determine a child’s life chances.
In short, the Marriage Foundation has produced figures which exactly refute their case: marriage certificates are not important, economics is. So let us not get bogged down in these out-dated arguments over the value of marriage. Instead, what we should be concentrating on is reducing poverty and thereby improving life chances for all, especially the children.
Photo by Bev Sykes via Flickr