MARRIAGES have plunged to a new low according to the latest figures. In 2019 a total of 213,122 heterosexual couples wed, down 50 per cent from a 1972 peak and the lowest since 1888. While 18.6 per 1,000 men got married, only 17.2 per 1,000 women did so, the lowest figures since records began in 1862.
At the same time the average age for marriage rose to a record high at 34.3 years for men and 32.3 for women.
This is bad news for society, since couples tend to marry in preparation for having a family, so it may also mean an even more disastrous downward spiral in the birth rate and an even more uncertain future for all of us. Already women are waiting longer to have children, and more and more are having abortions.
As the Marriage Foundation revealed earlier this month, ‘marriage remains the best way to find “reliable love”’; according to their latest report, cohabiting parents were nearly three and a half times more likely to split up in any given year compared with married parents, moreover, this stability gap is present regardless of income.
Its research ‘confirmed that the poorest married couples with children are more stable and likely to stick together than the richest unmarried couples with children’. Foundation director Harry Benson said that marriage ‘stacks the odds massively in your favour’ simply ‘because the act of marriage necessarily involves a decision, a clear plan and public affirmation of you as a couple’, and ‘the majority of marriages last a lifetime because the psychology of marriage goes with the grain of how commitment works’.
The Foundation found that, overwhelmingly, young adults still wish to marry, seeing marriage ‘as the gold standard of relationships’, although there is a massive gap between aspiration and achievement, especially among lower-income couples, for while a third of these actually get married, more than three-quarters of those in higher managerial jobs do so. Benson says: ‘The rich and powerful who know the benefits of marrying are still doing it – almost universally.’
With a system geared against marriage for the poorer members of society – apart from ‘a meaningless and poorly targeted £250 tax allowance for some couples’, there is a ‘couple penalty’, i.e. ‘the utterly perverse system where low-income couples can lose thousands if they live together’. Benson remarks: ‘No wonder they think twice about getting married.’
And yet the price of picking up the pieces of children’s broken lives in a society that has forgotten the value of personal commitment has been estimated by the Foundation at £51billion in 2019 – more than the UK government spent on schools or defence. This is because children from broken homes have on average poorer educational and health outcomes and are more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system.
With the Government’s introduction of even easier divorce, it seems the Conservatives, once known as ‘the party of the family’, are doing little to make marriage the norm for the poorest while preserving it as a private hobby for the rich.
Marriage is more than ‘just a piece of paper’, and we will soon be unable to paper over the cracks in our crumbling society.