MARRIAGE is on the decline, but married people are more likely to stay together than cohabiting couples, says an in-depth analysis, Focus on Families, from the office of National Statistics. Married people live longer, and enjoy the best health; they provide unpaid care for their sick, disabled, and elderly relatives, and their children get better results at school than those of single or cohabiting parents.
The number of married couples fell by four per cent to 12.1 million in the past decade. Now only 65 per cent of children live with married parents, as compared with 72 per cent in 1996. There are 2.3 million cohabiting-couple families and 2.6 million lone-parent families — a rise of eight per cent over the previous decade.
Recent patterns of family dynamics — the decline and delay of marriage and childbearing, and increases in divorce, cohabitation, and births outside marriage — also mean that individuals are more likely to experience a range of family lifestyles throughout their lifetimes. The report identifies an increased risk of breakdown among cohabiting couples when compared to married couples.
Where unpaid care is concerned, the concentration of carers in married-couple families is particularly marked, where long hours of care are provided at older ages. For people aged 65 and over, 84 per cent of those providing care for 20 hours a week or more are in married-couple families. The impact of cohabitation may be greater in future, the report suggests.
In general, married people have the best health, followed by single people, with the formerly-married having the worst. “Many studies of historical marriage and mortality data have shown the association between marriage and health is enduring and pervasive,” the authors say.
They suggest: “Former benefits of partnership, such as a generally better standard of living, seem less important as the single breadwinner model disappears. For a number of reasons, differences between marital status groups might be expected to decline, but the clearest evidence (given by mortality trends) suggests that these differentials are, in fact, increasing, so that the link between health and family remains strong.”
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