In an ‘Understanding Society’ conference today, the influential think tank Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) will outline research suggesting marriage does not improve a child’s outcomes. In their report, ‘Is marriage good for children?’, the IFS will conclude that there is no evidence that married parents provide a better environment for children’s development than cohabiting couples.
IFS will suggest the gaps in cognitive and socio-emotional development between children born to married parents and those born to cohabiting parents reflect the fact that different types of people choose to get married, rather than that marriage has an effect on relationship stability or child development.
Couples who chose to get married tend to be in a higher income bracket and to have had a higher standard of education. Those background factors, IFS will claim, are what determine the stability of the relationship, not the decisions the couple actively make together, such as whether or not to marry.
Harry Benson of The Marriage Foundation, who has conducted similar research, said, “IFS have completely misconstrued their own evidence.
“The case for marriage has never rested on whether married couples make better parents than unmarried couples. The finding that couples tend to do equally well is a non-finding. What really matters is whether couples stay together as a couple. And it is here that IFS have got it so wrong.
“In their stability studies, IFS show that background factors, such as education and income, account for 42 percent of the stability gap between married and cohabiting couples. The remaining 58 percent of the gap is mostly down to relational issues, such as whether the birth was planned, and the quality of the relationship. IFS claim, without foundation, that these factors have little or nothing to do with marriage.
“A growing body of research into how couples commit shows that both cohabitation and marriage have potentially causal elements. Moving in together itself adds a “constraint” or “inertia” that can makes it harder to leave a fragile relationship in the short term. Marriage involves a decision about the future as a couple that brings clarity and removes ambiguity, in much the same way as planning to have a baby.
“But the biggest flaw in their argument involves the big picture. If we look at trends since the 1980s, family breakdown has doubled. Education and income have not collapsed, in fact they have improved. So unless couples have somehow become less capable of holding together a relationship, the one big social change that could possibly account for this huge increase in instability is the trend away from relatively stable marriage and towards relatively unstable cohabitation.
“Of course marriage is not a panacea; not every marriage lasts, but a married couple have statistically a greater chance of remaining intact than a cohabiting couple.
“Our previous research has shown that 93 percent of couples who remain together until their children are in their mid-teens are married. Just 18 percent of all couples with children aged 0-15 years old are still together but unmarried.”
Last month, the Prime Minister agreed to include legislation to introduce a transferable tax allowance in the Autumn Statement, which would come into effect 2014-2015. The law would allow one spouse, who cares for the children, to transfer their personal tax allowance to their partner.
The Marriage Foundation welcomed the move, but stipulated that the scheme would eventually have be extended to mean a significant amount saved in tax. Currently plans would only save a couple £150 a year compared to the £3,270 in child tax credit that may be lost when couples say they live together.
“The government has every reason to support marriage,” commented Harry Benson. “Parents who split up are disproportionally likely to need state support, care or intervention. This is partly because lone parents have to cope with fewer resources of time and money, and partly because splitting up can involve considerable family dysfunction.
“The bill to the taxpayer for picking up the pieces is a massive £46 billion a year. That’s the same as the same as the entire defence budget for 2014.”
Notes to editors:
The Understanding Society conference is taking place 24-26 July at the University of Essex. Ellen Greaves of the IFS will be presenting the report, ‘Is marriage good for children? Outcomes for children born to married and cohabiting couples’ at 3pm on Thursday 25 July.
For media inquiries regarding the Marriage Foundation, please contact Harry Benson, who is available to be interviewed, on 07515 699187.
The Marriage Foundation was founded by Sir Paul Coleridge, a High Court Judge, moved by his personal experience in 40 years as a barrister and judge specialising in family law. The Foundation seeks to improve public understanding of marriage reduce the numbers of people drawn into the family justice system – some 500,000 children and adults each year.