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Marriage rates collapse among middle classes, says Marriage Foundation

‘Wealthy four times more likely to marry than poor’

The middle classes are turning their backs on marriage, according to the Marriage Foundation.

The Foundation states that new analysis of data from the Family Resources Survey and the General Household Survey shows that the trend away from marriage was largely confined to low income groups prior to the 1990s but is now spreading to families on middle incomes.

Whereas the vast majority (84 per cent) of middle earning families ('representing the fifth and sixth decile by household income') with young children were still marrying in 1994, only 59 per cent were married in 2012, a drop of 25 per cent over 18 years.

Among mothers with children under five, the proportion of middle earners who married has fallen faster than any other income group.

Harry Benson, Research Director for Marriage Foundation, who compiled the report commented:

"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 [see here] showed that marriage faces extinction among low earners [represnting the 9th and 10th deciles by household income], 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."

Sir Paul Coleridge, Chairman and founder of Marriage Foundation commented:

"Only a tiny proportion of parents who do not marry make it, as a couple, to the child's fifteenth birthday. The simple fact is that if you marry today you will probably still be married to the same person on the day you die. If you merely cohabit, by the time your child is 15, you almost certainly will not be living as a couple with them.

"Over my forty years working in the family courts, I witnessed a massive rise in the number of children being caught up in the system. That increase has come predominantly from the ever greater number of cohabiting couples who split having had children.

"It is now acknowledged that children benefit hugely from a secure, stable family environment.   Conversely, higher levels of truancy from school and underperformance, mental ill health and joblessness among the young is linked to family breakdown.

"And this impacts everyone one of us. The cost of family breakdown is now running at £47 billion per annum.

"So why the reluctance among policy makers to recognise the evidence and so recognise the value of marriage? Perhaps it is a misguided perception that it is not fashionable to champion marriage and that all social arrangements have the same consequences.  But if this negative message is constantly broadcast, we can only expect to see an ever rising tide of breakdown and troubled children."

The full report can be accessed here.

The Marriage Foundation also asserts that mothers with young children are four times more likely to be married if they are wealthy than if they are poor.

Among mothers with children under five, Marriage Foundation research has found that 87 per cent of those with household incomes over £45,000 are married compared to 24 per cent of those with incomes under £14,000.

Other social indicators such as education and housing status also indicate a stark gap between uptake of marriage for the most privileged and the least.

The full report in relation to this research can be found here.

Sir Paul was challenged about the research on BBC Radio 4's Today here. The discussion with Fiona Weir, chief excutive of Gingerbread, who deprecated the introduction of a married couple's tax allowance, commences at about 1 hour 21 minutes.