Tie the knot to boost children’s mental health, couples told

New research by Marriage Foundation shows that marriage significantly improves the self-esteem of teenagers and improves their life chances. In the first ever UK

New research by Marriage Foundation shows that marriage significantly improves the self-esteem of teenagers and improves their life chances.

In the first ever UK report on the influence of family status on self-esteem, Marriage Foundation used of data on 3,822 children from the British Household Panel Survey to compare those living with married parents, continuously cohabiting parents and lone parents.

The analysis showed that children with parents in a stable long-term cohabiting relationship did not see any benefit; only those with married parents registered a self-esteem boost by a margin of several points.

Previous research has shown that self-esteem in childhood has a profound impact on future life chances, above and beyond the effect of other factors such as sex, socio-economic status or other indications of mental health.

Harry Benson, Research Director of Marriage Foundation, commented: “The finding flies in the face of conventional wisdom that the marital status of a child’s parents is irrelevant and that it is the longevity of the relationship that counts.

“If that were the case, children of long-term cohabitees would have higher self-esteem than children of lone parents. In fact they do not; the difference between them is negligible. Marriage alone provides the boost.

“We know from previous research that self-esteem is related to closeness and security in relationships. In this study, we can see that children are responding to how their parents relate to each other.

“All the symbols of marriage like wedding photos, the annual anniversary and the titles ‘husband’ and ‘wife,’ all contribute to a picture in a child’s mind of their parents as a solid and secure unit and their self-esteem benefits accordingly.”

Sir Paul Coleridge, founder and chairman of Marriage Foundation commented: “Marriage matters because it is the most important predicator of a child’s future life chances.

“Not only is a married couple six times more likely to save their child from undergoing the trauma of family breakdown, we now have evidence that parent’s public declaration of commitment to each other significantly alters a child’s self-perception and self-esteem.

“Earlier this year, the Prime Minister laid out what he called his ‘life chances agenda.’ He said strong families were critical in giving children the best possible opportunity of a happy and healthy life.

“Sadly, he ducked the chance to say that marriage is the surest way of protecting a couple’s relationship despite the fact evidence shows that 92 per cent of parents who are still together by their children’s fifteenth birthday are married.

“It is not being moralistic or judgemental to say marriage works best for families. It is a statement of fact. The trend away from marriage beginning in the 1980s has coincided with a meteoric rise in family breakdown. Unless the Government gets serious about tackling this epidemic now, more and more children will see their lives torn apart.”

Marriage Foundation used data from the British Household Panel Survey – a panel study of over 10,000 individuals from 250 areas of Great Britain between 1991 and 2009 – using 8,894 person years from 3,822 children across the United Kingdom.

The think tank, founded to promoting stable families, compiled the report in collaboration with Spencer James, Assistant Professor at Brigham Young University in the United States.


Notes to editors:

For media inquiries please contact Beatrice Timpson on 07803 726977.

Harry Benson is available to be interviewed, on 07515 699187.


About Marriage Foundation
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.


Marriage Foundation has highlighted the crisis of family breakdown. Their research has found that a child born today only has a 50 per cent chance of living with both parents by the time they reach fifteen.


Foundation research has also found that 93 percent of parents who stay together until their child’s fifteenth birthday are married.

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