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This research suggests that unmarried couples who elect to
live together with resident or visiting children are more apt to
break up than couples who marry. Though
this research focused on British families, I suspect it applies equally to
most families because human nature transcends nationalities and
- Peter Gerlach, MSW
+ + +
Benson, author of the research and director of the Bristol Community
Family Trust, an independent relationship education and research body,
based his findings on Office for National Statistics data on divorce and
jointly registered births, together with ONS research on the ratio
between breakdown rates for married and unmarried families.
The findings show that it is no longer plausible to argue that all
relationship types were equal, he said. "The evidence is irrefutable.
Unmarried parents are five times
more likely to break up than married parents.
Divorce is not the major problem any more."
Mr. Benson's research is the first in a series of reports on unmarried
parents expected to be published this year. One Plus One, the leading
independent relationship organization, will shortly publish its key
study into the increasing number of children affected by unmarried
parents splitting up.
Penny Mansfield, director of One Plus One, said that Britain appeared to
have reached a watershed in the way families were forming. Whereas
couples in previous generations did their courting, got married and had
children in that order, nowadays growing numbers were having children
first and only then deciding whether to remain in a couple relationship.
"The problem with this approach is that
having children generally
destabilizes a relationship.
If you are trying to figure out whether to
form a partnership in the early years after having a child, it's a bit
like pedaling uphill," she said.
"What we have lost is the idea that at the heart of marriage there is a
link between parents which is of value of itself. That link would then
cradle the upbringing of children. Maybe we need to rediscover this link
in this new world of equality," Ms. Mansfield said.
Kathleen Kiernan, Professor of Social Policy and Demography at York
University, accepted that children of cohabiting parents could be
disadvantaged. They were more likely to live in different de facto
arrangements because their parents were more likely to split
up than married parents. "We know that
the more transitions, or
experiences like this, that children have, the more detrimental it is to
their wellbeing," she said.
Ms. Kiernan rejected policies promoting marriage, arguing that the
Government's focus on the child, rather than the nature of the parental
relationship, was the best approach. "There is no strong evidence that
encouraging cohabitants to marry will enhance the durability of their
union," she said.
Benson, a married father of six, believes otherwise. His own marriage
was saved 11 years ago by a relationship education course.
support for relationship education could make a huge difference. "The
vast majority of family breakdown is avoidable," Mr. Benson said.
Another way of stemming the number of unmarried family breakdowns, he
suggested, would be the reintroduction of tax advantages for marriage,
such as transferable tax allowances between husband and wife.
Mr. Benson believes that his findings are significant because of the
growing body of evidence suggesting that
children born to unmarried
parents and those raised in one-parent households lead less advantaged
lives than their contemporaries who are born to and raised by a married
"Children born to unmarried parents are already likely to have more
problems at school, work or with their well-being. If their parents then
split up, the outcomes can be worse still because family breakdown
itself is associated with all sorts of problems such as crime, truancy,
poverty and relationship difficulties."
Mr. Benson will present his research next week at a national conference
held to mark National Marriage Week.
# The research coincides with the publication of new government
figures showing a 4.7 per cent increase in marriages in England and
Wales in 2003 to reach 267,700.
Harry Benson's paper is available at
http://www.bcft.co.uk/ under Research
This is one of many research reports concluding that typical kids from
homes have more personal, social, school., and health
than kids from stable, high-nurturance families. The research doesn't
explore the possibility that the parents themselves
significant abandonment, neglect, and abuse, and inherited little
education and modeling on effective parenting from their