The cost to Britain’s children of the trend away from marriage

Over the past 35 years, nearly two million more children have been born into families that are breaking down as a result of the trend away from marriage, Marriage Foundation has found.

Since 1980, the proportion of children born to married couples has fallen from 88 per cent to 53 per cent. Over the same period family breakdown has increased by 44 per cent in England and Wales.

Previous research by Marriage Foundation, the think tank dedicated to building stronger families, found that couples who marry before their first child have a 76 per cent of staying together, as opposed to 31 per cent of cohabiting couples.

The latest Marriage Foundation research shows the trend away from marriage since 1980 may have cost up to 1.8 million children the chance to grow up with both parents.

Harry Benson, Research Director of Marriage Foundation, commented: “This research supports what we have feared for a long time. As the trend away from marriage continues, more and more children are born into families where the parents’ commitment to one another is unclear or ambiguous. The result is that more children will undergo the trauma of family breakdown.

“By side-stepping the big decision to commit in public to each other, far too many parents lack the stability required to weather the various storms that life and child-raising in particular throws up.

“Our previous research has shown that couples who were not married at the time of the child’s birth are more than twice as likely to split up in the following 15 years, even if they married at a later stage.

“While life-long committed cohabiting relationships can of course provide children with all the stability they need, alas they are rare. Cohabiting couples make up only 19 per cent of today’s parents yet account for half of all family breakdown.

“In the past 35 years we have seen changes to the main socio-economic background factors known to influence family stability. Mothers are now more mature when they have children, better educated and have higher incomes.

“This means family breakdown should have gone down. But instead family breakdown has doubled. The only social trend that can plausibly explain this collapse in stability is the move away from marriage.”

Founder and Chairman of Marriage Foundation, former High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge commented: “This research demonstrates the scale of the real human problem behind the dry statistics which compare the stability of marriage with cohabitation.

“This significant drop take-up of marriage means that up to 1.8 million more children have been subjected to the pain and trauma of family breakdown than ought to have been the case. And this problem is only going to worsen if we do confront the situation and do something to shift attitudes in favour of marriage.

“As we emphasised by our manifesto, the political parties need to sit up and take note.However much the detractors may prefer that it was not the case, a publicly made, a serious act of commitment to the future – that is to say marriage – is still the best way of helping a couple make their relationship work over the long term.

“Over forty years working in the family courts, the two things I’ve learnt above all else are that what almost all children want most is for their parents to stay together, and that a stable parental relationship is the single most important factor in a child’s healthy and happy development.”


Here you can download the Research Briefing Paper as a PDF and the Press Release where it is available.

Media Links

The Times, 27th April 2015
by Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent: “Family breakdowns are blamed on the decline of marriage”

The Telegraph, 27th April 2015
by Gregory Walton: “Most births will be ‘out of wedlock within 10 years’”

Daily Mail, 27th April 2015
by Harriet Crawford: “Majority of babies ‘will be born out of wedlock by 2025’ as number of couples deciding to marry declines”

Nottingham Post, 27th April 2015
by Jemma Page: “Majority of babies will be ‘born out of wedlock within 10 years’ according to experts”

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