UK Report: Marriage the Most Stable Family Structure

Robert FranklinJune 9, 2013 by Robert Franklin, Esq.

A new analysis of British census data shows that, overwhelmingly, intact married couples, i.e. those who are living together, are more stable than all other types of relationships.  Moreover, if a child is to be raised in a stable parental environment, that environment will almost certainly consist of two married biological parents.

Those are some of the results of this paper by The Marriage Foundation (May, 2013).  It largely tracks the relative stability of various types of living arrangements over time and concludes that the institution of marriage is the chief force in the maintenance of stable relationships. 

Therefore, of intact relationships with children between the ages of 13 and 15, a whopping 93% consist of two married adults who are the biological parents of that child.  Only 7% of intact relationships survive those 13-15 years without the benefits of marriage.  Stated another way, “long-term stable relationships” are overwhelmingly married ones.  Unmarried relationships tend to fall apart.

The study analyzes data from a large longitudinal study of British households.  Some 40,000 households have provided data that was first studied in 2000.  The second wave of data from those households, and analysis thereof, came in 2010/2011, and it is from that data that the Marriage Foundation’s analysis comes.

The conclusions are clear.  Above all, marriage matters when it comes to adults staying together and providing a stable home environment for their children.  Single parent childbearing, whether the mother is alone or in an unmarried relationship with the father, offers a child only continually shifting ground.

In 2001, 40% of children aged 13-15 weren’t living with both biological parents.  Today the number is 47%.  Some 17% of children under the age of one weren’t living with both biological parents.  About 26% of unmarried mothers had split from their child’s father by the child’s fifth birthday, but only 9% of married mothers had done so.

In the UK at least, the trend away from marital childbirth continues.  In 2000, about 40% of children were born to unmarried mothers.  By 2011, the number was 47%.

By contrast, marriages seem to be more durable than before.  The Marriage Foundation’s report studies the sources of family breakdown and finds that unmarried parents who lived together at the birth of their child account for 49% of family breakdown, while those who have never lived together added another 20%.  The rest, 31%, had been married when their child was born, but later divorced.  That’s down from 56% in 2001.

That suggests that, as in the United States, those who marry, and particularly those with children, are taking the institution more seriously.  Among that cohort, divorce rates are coming down.

Of course, all this has profound effects on British society.  There, the government estimates that family breakdown costs taxpayers about £46 Billion a year, an amount that exceeds the total defense budget for the country.  So you’d think lawmakers would be doing everything in their power to encourage marriage and discourage all other family structures for the raising of children.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  In the UK, direct governmental payments to single mothers do the exact opposite. 

In the United States, we’ve been hard about the task of family breakup for decades.  All the way back in the 60s we knew that Aid to Families with Dependent Children offered cash payments to mothers without a father in residence, but withheld them from those with a live-in partner.  How perverse was that?

Today, federal government welfare has changed, but family courts have taken up the challenge of separating fathers from children and proven more than equal to the task.  Alimony and child support laws are frankly aimed at ensuring that mothers can ditch their husband, marginalize him in the life of his child and still suffer little financially.  Again, those are direct cash incentives for divorce.

Meanwhile, popular culture continues to pretend that women are really better off – freer and happier – once they “wash that man right out of my heart.”  Of course, decades of social science show that’s just flat wrong.  In fact, married women are happier, safer and richer than are their unmarried counterparts. 

And of course children do better in intact families.  The list of detriments to children raised in single-parent households is too long to recount here.  But suffice it to say that kids raised with two biological parents have better health, both physical and emotional, do better in school, are less likely to be involved with drugs or crime, are safer, and more likely to form stable relationships in adulthood than are kids raised by single parents, stepparents, foster parents or adoptive parents.

Pop culture doesn’t care.  The current issue of The Atlantic features an article claiming that married couples are, in a nutshell, unhappy and unequal.  It took Dr. Brad Wilcox to set that nonsense straight here (The Atlantic, 6/3/13).  In fact, as Wilcox shows, married couples in the U.S. report high levels of happiness and contentment.  They also report that they tend to share the jobs of a family pretty equally.

[T]he big picture for marriage in America—for those Americans fortunate enough to have tied the knot—is markedly more rosy than Mundy’s portrait would suggest. Most husbands and wives make about equal total contributions to the paid and unpaid work needed to sustain a family, judge their marriages to be fair, and are happily married.

So, about 73% of married fathers and 68% of married mothers report their relationship to be fair, and 80% of married fathers and 77% of married mothers say they’re overall satisfied with the quality of their relationship.  No wonder kids get along better when their parents are married than when they’re not.

But paradoxically, governmental policies by the score militate against marriage, stability and what’s best for children.  At the very least, we should start teaching children early on the benefits of marriage, the necessity of having two biological parents raise a child, that single parenthood is emphatically not “just another lifestyle choice,” that false allegations of abuse for the purpose of “winning” a custody battle and paternity fraud are always wrong and destructive to all concerned.  Boys should be taught that the children they father are their equal responsibilities as well as their equal rights.

But we do none of that.  It’s as if elites actually want to see this society fail.  How else to explain the blindness and stupidity that are routinely passed off as vision and good sense?  How else to explain a president who pretends year after year that men are solely responsible for fathers’ absence in children’s lives?

“There’s a battle outside and it’s ragin’

It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.”

Truth to tell, it already is.

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The National Parents Organization is a non-profit organization that is educating the public, families, educators, and legislators about the importance of shared parenting and how it can reduce conflict in children, parents and extended families. If you would like to get involved in our organization, you can do so several ways. First, we would love to have you as an official member of the National Parents Organization team. Second, the National Parents Organization is an organization that believes in the importance of using social media as a means to spread the word about shared parenting and other topics, and you can visit us on our Facebook Page to learn more about our efforts. Last, we hope you will share this article with other families using the many social networking sites so that we can bring about greater awareness of shared parenting. Thank you for your support.

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