FOR the first time since records began in 1845, most children are now born outside marriage, figures from the Office for National Statistics show. In England and Wales, 51.3 per cent of 624,828 live births in 2021 were to women not married or in a civil partnership, while 48.7 per cent of babies were born in wedlock.
At the beginning of the 20th century, 96 per cent of births were within marriage, but this fell to 80 per cent in 1985, 70 per cent in 1991 and 60 per cent in 2001.
If this trend continues, there will be no children born within marriage by the end of this century. Meanwhile, over the last decade, the birth rate in England and Wales has fallen, with the fertility rate at 1.61 per woman in 2021, the second-lowest on record, prompting warnings that the low birth rate would sooner or later have an impact as the number of older people becomes greater than those of younger workers.
It is good to see that the ‘sums’ are now being studied, but it seems that the answer to 2 + 2 continues to be regarded as 5. Although there is a mention of stillbirths remaining ‘more common in the most deprived areas’ – 5.6 per 1,000 births as against 2.7 per 1,000 in wealthier areas – any discussion of declining birth rates needs to address the ten million children killed before birth since 1967.
The highest number of abortions typically take place in the late teens, when in times gone by the young women would be getting married and starting a family. Women are increasingly postponing childbearing, but it is well known that older women are less fertile, thus many will miss out on the opportunity to have a family altogether.
Harry Benson, research director of the Marriage Foundation, says that ‘marriage helps couples stay together. Making a solid commitment to spending your lives together removes any lingering doubts and ambiguities about your relationship. It means you’re on the same page and you are accountable to others’. He comments: ‘Whereas eight out of ten married couples will still be together when these newborns are old enough to sit their GCSEs, only three of ten parents who don’t marry will manage this’ and he observes: ‘Couples who don’t marry are stacking the odds against themselves.’
Whereas lack of support is a big factor in women seeking abortion, marriage is a protective factor for children, and many young people still look forward to it as an ideal. However it is now commonly seen as the last item on the to-do list, put off until couples can afford it – if they are still together. As Mr Benson points out, for some time it has been government policy to deter the less prosperous classes from marriage, while politicians still reap its benefits in their own lives, noting: ‘Much of the reason why so few low-income couples marry is because they lose benefits if they move in together, let alone wed’, while for ‘higher-income couples, marriage rates are still pretty high – 25 out of 30 ministers in the Cabinet are married.’
It is also government policy to ‘get women into the workforce’ and paying tax, inevitably affecting the growing number remaining childless at higher ages. Time spent with families is seen as financially unproductive. Abortion assists with this policy, and it is significant that the poor have a disproportionately high number of abortions, suggesting that ‘the right to choose’ has become the ‘solution to poverty’. The fact that so many women report being coerced into abortion undermines claims about ‘choice’. Until we start talking about those missing millions of children, we will never fix our families, our culture, our society, or our economy.