Marriage stronger predictor of relationship stability than income, so why do politicians seem so scared of promoting it?

London, (Parliament Politics Magazine) – A report earlier this month found that poor married couples with children are more stable and likely to stick together than rich unmarried couples with children.

The study from the Marriage Foundation analysed data from the UK Longitudinal Household Survey, (Understanding Society), grouping parents into the five socio-economic groups and comparing the relative stability between married and unmarried couples in each category over five alternate one-year periods, from 2009 to 2010, from 2011 to 2012, from 2013 to 2014, from 2015 to 2016, and from 2017 to 2018. It found that cohabiting parents were 3.4 times more likely to split up compared to married parents (6.5 per cent versus 1.9 per cent) and that this “gap in stability runs across all five income quintiles”.

“The evidence is that this stability gap has remained pretty constant throughout the ten-year period of this study. Even after taking into account mothers age, education, ethnicity, household income and relationship happiness, the odds of cohabiting parents splitting up are consistently twice as high as those of married parents” it says.

“Amongst the very richest parents, 2.9 per cent split up if cohabiting versus 1 per cent if married. Amongst the very poorest, 8.9 per cent split up if cohabiting versus 2.8 per cent if married. Remarkably, the very poorest married couples are slightly more likely to remain together than the very richest cohabiting parents. The only cohabitees who do better are the second richest group who split at a rate of 2.3 per cent.”

The report goes on to claim that 86 per cent of all intact couples with 13–15-year-old children are married.

Intrigued by these findings, Politics went to meet Harry Benson, Marriage Foundation’s Research Director at their 10th anniversary celebration and ask about the enduring popularity of marriage.

“For 10 years Marriage Foundation has been highlighting the benefits of marriage he says. These figures demonstrate, “yet again that marriage remains the most stable form of relationship especially for raising children and is more important than income on couples sticking together”, he says.

“Even once we controlled for mothers age, education, ethnicity, relationship happiness and income, the odds of cohabiting parents splitting up are consistently twice as high as married parents. This explains why our analysis shows that nearly nine in ten of all intact couples with 13–15-year children are married.”

So why we ask have marriage rates fallen?

“You are correct that marriage rates have declined since 1973, the all-time peak for marriages in England and Wales.” Adding, “not only are fewer couples marrying but they are doing it later, if at all. The average age at first marriage is now 30 for brides and 32 for grooms, some nine years later than their 1973 peers.

“But there is a secret and it’s a big one!

“It’s not the rich who have stopped marrying, which explains why about 90 per cent of the Cabinet are married, including the Prime Minister Boris Johnson, but poorer couples.

“A previous study we conducted highlighted how a clear majority of young people (86 per cent of women and 80 per cent of men under the age of 30) aspire to marry. Importantly it found neither age or socio-economic group significantly diminished the desire to wed, and the only scandal was that young people from poorer backgrounds thought they could not afford to do so. Too many have bought into this myth that weddings are about the size of the ceremony, a narrative that is pushed by a few magazines and the average cost is nearly £30,000.”

Harry goes on to explain how Marriage Foundation polling found almost one in three young unmarried UK adults aged 18-30 said they would be more likely to get married if the typical wedding was cheaper. While 28 per cent of women and 21 per cent of men surveyed, who were in a relationship cited ‘wedding cost’ as a reason why they were not currently married.

So, what is to be done?

“Firstly, we need to provide people with clear information about marriage. This is why Marriage Foundation was established a decade ago. Our research has busted the divorce boom myth – the divorce rate has been dropping over recent years – publish accurate details about the average cost of weddings, which is a world away from 30K and campaign for changes to the law so couples can tie the knot in a wide range of places, like a beach, by a lake, in their local pub and yes, even in McDonalds if that is what the couple wants. Our message is simple, the cost of a wedding should never be a barrier to marrying.”

You mentioned that most of the Cabinet are married, should the Government be doing more to encourage this?

Harry’s expression changes at this question, he seems more determined. “yes, absolutely” he says after a pause.

“There has been an appalling indifference shown towards marriage from our politicians and policy makers most of whom are married. For example, a tax allowance for married couples accounted for a very meaningful four per cent of GDP in the late 1970s, the current tax allowance is worth a relatively meaningless and poorly targeted £250 per couple. While marriage is also neglected in almost every public policy document, I am not sure why when all the evidence show the many benefits it brings.

“Don’t get me wrong, there a few brave MPs and peers who actively promote it, but marriage can be a mainstream solution to the problem of family breakdown, but it must be supported and that requires our political leaders to stop pretending marriage doesn’t matter, because it does and start backing it seriously.”

About the author:

Harry Benson – Research Director of Marriage Foundation. Harry is one of Britain’s leading champions for marriage. His research findings for Marriage Foundation are routinely cited in the media and by politicians and have made front page news on several occasions. He has spent the last twenty years researching, writing and teaching about marriage and family. As founder of a Bristol charity, he taught hundreds of relationship courses to thousands of couples, including ‘Let’s Stick Together’, a pioneering short programme for new parents evaluated by the Department for Education and delivered mainly through NHS post-natal clinics. He also co-authored influential family policy papers for the Centre for Social Justice.

Harry Benson

Harry Benson is one of Britain’s leading champions for marriage. As research director for Marriage Foundation, his findings are routinely cited in the UK media and by politicians and have made front page news on several occasions. He has taught relationship courses to thousands of couples and written several books on marriage and relationships. He is now in the final year of a PhD in social policy at the University of Bristol looking at the role of commitment in the timing of marriage.