British adults whose parents were married at the time of their birth were 16 per cent less likely to ever receive benefits, a new study by Marriage Foundation has found.
They were also 23 percent more likely to have been to university and 10 percent more likely to have got married themselves.
Although overall adults from a privileged background were less likely to go on benefits, the protection of social class only appears to apply if their parents were married at the time of their birth. Those whose parents were not married when they were born were as likely to need benefits as adults without their favourable start in life.
The research is based on data from 20,000 adults now aged in their late 40s or 50s who have taken part in either the National Child Development Study or the British Cohort Study.
Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation, commented:
“It is already well established that being married is associated with greater stability, health, well-being and longevity for adults and their children.
“This new report goes a step further by relating the married status of parents at the time of their children’s birth to the likelihood of those children to need benefits, go to university or get married themselves.
“It is striking that even those from privileged backgrounds whose parents were not married at the time of their birth are as likely to end up needing state support as those without the same start in life.
“Social capital within the family thus has a profound effect on social mobility outside the family.
“Although we can’t be certain of the precise mechanism, the likely reason will be rooted in the higher break-up rates of unmarried versus married families. Whereas three out of four parents who are married when their child is born will still be together by the time the child takes their GCSEs, not much more than one in four parents who don’t marry will still be together.
“Family breakdown affects children through lack of parental resources, reduced social capital, father absence, and how the children themselves interpret their parents break-up.
“Parenting can also be affected by breakdown. Although lone parents do a heroic job, lack of resources tends to lead to overcompensating in their parenting style. The best outcomes for children come from a balance of love and boundaries from their parents, a style known as “authoritative” parenting. Whereas 52 per cent of two parent families use the “authoritative” style, only 32 per cent of lone parents do so. Lone parents are twice as likely to be “permissive”.
“Whatever the explanation, our findings are based on such a large pool of adults across the social spectrum over such a long period of time are robust and striking. For rich and poor alike, parents who are married before having children give those children tremendous advantages and protections that persist long into adult life.”
Sir Paul Coleridge, chairman and founder of Marriage Foundation, commented: “The natural assumption is always that the children of the better off will, by reason of their family wealth, be protected from ever needing state benefits. But this new research demonstrates that that is simply not whole story.
“As with much of our previous research, for example into the beneficial impact of marriage on children’s mental health and sense of self-esteem, there is a unique ingredient found only within marriage that makes a significant difference. Why that should be so must be speculative but it surely has to be linked to the greater stability found within the married sector and, so far as this research is concerned, the even greater stability in families where the marriage preceded the children. This greater security inevitably feeds through into a person’s ability to fend for him or herself as an adult.
“No-one wants to be financially dependent on the state and so it is important for potential parents to understand that the decisions they make as to whether or not to marry before starting a family has such a significant impact on their children’s lives. In short if your relationship is not sufficiently committed to embrace marriage it is not sufficiently strong or stable to embrace child rearing.
“To marry before starting a family is more likely to create a stable family setting, more likely to help children go through to higher education and ultimately make children more financially resilient. This is such a simple and great gift to bestow on the next generation.”
“Marriage Foundation was created to generate research to elucidate what 44 years working in the family courts has made plain to me: that family instability in childhood has a dramatically deleterious effect on the rest of a child’s life.”