First went the lower income families, now it seems that the middle classes are following suit. According to new data analysis by the Marriage Foundation, the rate of middle-class couples marrying has declined sharply.
The Marriage Foundation’s report, which draws on data from the Family Resources Survey and the General Household Survey, found that, back in 1994, 84% of middle-income families with young children were married. This contrasts starkly with the rates in 2012, which stand, somewhat limply, at 59%. This represents a drop of 25% in the space of 18 years.
The decline of marriage among lower earners had been documented in an earlier report, the Marriage Foundation wringing its hands over what it called ‘an alarming widening of the marriage gap between rich and poor’. According to their previous research, published only a day before, richer couples are four times more likely to marry than their less wealthy counterparts.
The Marriage Foundation, the pro-marriage thinktank founded by family law veteran Sir Paul Coleridge, is obviously perturbed by these statistics. It believes marriage to be a venerable institution that still provides children with the most stable upbringing possible.
Harry Benson, Research Director for Marriage Foundation, who compiled the report, said:
Our research shows a concerning spread in the collapse of marriage among the lowest earners to middle earners over the past fifteen years.
While our previous report, published yesterday, showed that marriage faces extinction among low earners, today’s study shows that the middle classes are fast on course to follow them.
When a social-economic group turns away from marriage, we see a corresponding hike in the rates of family breakdown.
It’s very easy to understand why. Staying in a relationship over the course of a child’s life can be extremely testing at times and takes a big commitment on both sides from the outset.
While there are cohabiting couples who discuss their future, make the commitment and succeed in staying together, they are unfortunately rare. Cohabiting couples make up only 19 per cent of parents but half of all family breakdown.
So, while ‘for richer, for poorer’ should have no effect on a marriage’s stability, it certainly seems to have some bearing on whether the marriage occurs in the first place.
Sir Paul Coleridge said:
It is not only sad but also very concerning that not one but two of the largest sections of society are increasingly turning away from marriage.
And it is the children who are the main casualties. The single most important factor in a child’s development is the stable relationship of the parents, and the fact is that long term stability is almost entirely confined to married couples.
Other commentators have pointed out, however, that coming from an affluent background is, in itself, a positive factor influencing a child’s wellbeing. Socioeconomic factors such as income, education and housing also, as the Marriage Foundation’s reports suggest, in turn has an impact on marital likelihood. It seems that there’s not such a straightforward cause and effect as the Marriage Foundation’s report would have us believe, but rather more circular.