A new study commissioned by
former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith has concluded
that marriage is the best environment to raise children
because it offers the greatest chance of a stable upbringing.
Unmarried parents are up to five
times more likely to experience family breakdown, according to
the survey of 15,000 mothers who gave birth during 2000-01.
It found that cohabiting couples
had at keast twice the odds of family breakdown during the early
years of parenthood than married couples of a similar income.
Almost 3,000 of the women involved
in the study had become lone parents during the first three
years of their child's life.
The study's findings are likely to
pile pressure on David Cameron to put marriage at the heart of
Tory policies on the family - something he has so far failed to
But do these findings hold for
Britain as a whole? Do you think marriage is the best way to
guarantee a good upbringing for your child, and if not, why not?
Would pushing marriage as the only
environment to raise children in encourage or dissuade people
from voting for the Conservatives?
AT RISK FROM GOVERNMENT POLICY TO DISREGARD MARRIAGE, WARNS NEW
Official policy to abolish marital
status and disregard marriage in government-sponsored research
is incompatible with the claim that every child matters,
according to new independent research.
The biggest study of family
breakdown yet conducted in the UK has found “marital status” to
be the single most important factor predicting whether couples
with young children stay together or not.
Even the poorest married couples
are more stable than all but the richest unmarried couples.
The research sends a warning to
policy-makers whose personal experience of relatively stable
unmarried couples, cushioned by wealth, is not representative of
the relatively unstable wider population.
Regardless of income and social
background, unmarried cohabiting parents are still more than
twice as likely to split up compared to married parents. Higher
income explains only part of the reason why married parents are
Overall, young children are five
times as likely to experience family breakdown if their parents
are not married, according to the study of 15,000 mothers with
three year old children.
The warning comes from a new paper
submitted in evidence by family policy expert Harry Benson to
the Social Justice Policy Group set up by David Cameron, the
Conservative Party Leader, to make recommendations on tackling
poverty and social disadvantage. The SJPG plans to publish an
interim report on the late autumn and a final report next
The research suggests that by
tacitly promoting cohabitation and undermining marriage,
policy-makers are exposing more children to the perils of family
breakdown, reflected in higher levels of crime, anti-social
behaviour, educational failure and mental and emotional
The estimated annual cost of family
breakdown in the UK, which has one of the highest rates of
divorce and births outside marriage in the Western world, is as
much as £24 billion or around £800 per taxpayer per year.
The study affirms how it is the
collapse of unmarried families, and not divorce, that is driving
family breakdown. Three quarters of family breakdown involved
But the government message – that
marital status does not matter – ignores the fact that for the
vast majority of parents being married helps to stabilise their
lives and to bring up their children in a secure environment.
Policy-makers are especially
criticised for their decision to “airbrush” marriage out of
government-sponsored family research.
Since 2003, the term “marital
status” has been removed from government forms, reflecting
the politically correct official view that marriage is
irrelevant to the well-being of children. Government-sponsored
research now misleadingly refers to “couple parents” or
“couple families”, terms that conceal differences in
outcomes between married and unmarried couples and their
Iain Duncan Smith, chairman of the
Social Justice Policy Group said: "I am very pleased to
receive this report from Harry Benson. This is a serious study
and will help the policy group establish the causes of the UK's
very high levels of family breakdown .
“What is particularly
interesting is the way the report shows that the Government's
assumption that children ' s outcomes are solely dictated by
socioeconomic factors is wrong. The structure within which they
grow up and are nurtured is vital to their well-being .
“The Government's corresponding
attempt to airbrush out references to marriage from family
research is a form of censorship ."
The study was written by Harry
Benson, deputy chairman of the SJPG's family breakdown
sub-group, and director of Bristol Community Family Trust, an
independent charity that runs relationship and parenting courses
and funded the research. Data analysis was provided by Stephen
McKay of Bristol University .
The new study is the largest and
most up-to-date comparison of married and unmarried family
stability yet conducted in the UK .
Analysis of newly released
Millennium Cohort Study data on 15,000 mothers who gave birth
during 2000/01 found that cohabiting couples face more than
double the odds of family breakdown in the early years of
parenthood compared to married couples on the same income.
Amongst all unmarried couples, comprising those who described
themselves as either “cohabiting” or “closely
involved” at the time of birth, family breakdown is five
times more common than amongst married couples.
Nearly 3,000 mothers, 20 per cent
of the entire sample, had become lone parents during the first
three years of their child's life. However the risk of breakdown
was 6 per cent among married couples and 32 per cent among
unmarried couples, comprising 20 per cent of those “cohabiting”
and 74 per cent of those “closely involved”.
The study concludes by highlighting
possible explanations for why married couples are more likely to
stay together than unmarried couples after they have a baby.
Evidence from outside the UK
suggests commitment, communication skills, father involvement,
specialisation of household roles and social support all play a
part. Some of these factors may coincide with the decision to
marry. Some may result directly from the experience of being
Government policy should encourage
and reopen investigation into marriage, an area almost wholly
neglected by UK researchers in recent years and yet rich with
opportunity for policy impact.
concludes “Family breakdown leads adults and children into
poverty and other social problems. Our study shows that it is
not enough to say that families split up because of their
circumstances. Any government that wants to reduce poverty and
inequality for both children and adults alike has to address the
issue of marriage and what it is that makes marriages work
better than the alternatives”.
[ver o estudo]
[ver a intervenção no 2nd National Conference on Relationship