Marriage boosts stability for parents and acts as a buffer against problems for children. This is especially true today now that divorce rates are at their lowest level in 50 years.
Although some of the advantages of marriage are due to selection – ‘the kind of people who marry’ – marriage remains a major protective factor even after taking background into account.
Commitment theory offers the most plausible explanation of a causal link, highlighting how the act of marriage represents an active decision, clear signal of commitment and removal of ambiguity. The result is that living together and having children affirm and boost parents’ dedication to one another rather than merely acting as a constraint and potential trap.
According to the Office for National Statistics, up to 1.3 million cohabiting couple families with 2.2 million dependent children will share Christmas together this year in England and Wales.
Using three different methods of calculating family breakdown, I would expect 75% of these families still to be intact in five years time. However were all of these families to make their commitment more explicit, in line with their married counterparts, their relationship survival rate could improve to as much as 93%.
Were all currently cohabiting parents to marry or enter civil partnership (thereby also gaining the legal rights and protection that they currently lack), an additional 80,000 to 227,000 families could stay together over the next five years and avoid the unnecessary experience of family breakdown for between 134,000 and 382,000 children.