THE England rugby player Courtney Lawes has spoken in favour of marriage over cohabitation, saying that couples who tie the knot make for a more “stable” family.
In an interview with the Telegraph on Saturday, Mr Lawes, who is married and has four children, said that the Government should provide incentives for couples to marry. He was commenting on the latest report by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), Family Structure Still Matters, published on Sunday.
The report found that marriage is a social-justice issue because parents with the highest incomes (top 20 per cent) are more likely to be married (83 per cent) than parents on the lowest incomes (55 per cent). The think tank argues that, because married couples are less likely to separate than cohabiting couples, the family is more stable, which benefits children in the long term.
“Children from stable families are less likely to be excluded and tend to do better at school, are less likely to be involved with the criminal justice system and have better employment outcomes than children from families where relationships break up is the norm,” the report states.
The number of cohabiting couples in the UK, including same-sex couples, has increased from £1.5 million in 1996 to £3.5 million in 2019; 48 per cent of children are now born outside of marriage. In the year to March, before lockdown, the number of divorces rose by 23 per cent; but the rate of separation for cohabiting couples is now said to be much higher than for married couples.
Mr Lawes described the marriage gap between high earners and low earners as “a burning injustice”, and urged the Government to distinguish between married-couple and cohabiting-couple families. “By blurring two different family structures into one,” he said, “they are keeping our children from making an informed decision.”
The report explains: “Distinguishing between family structure types is a social justice issue. On top of the £51 billion per year cost of family breakdown and the deficit of social infrastructure limiting the UK’s global prosperity ranking is the huge human cost.
“The fractured family is more likely to be the poor family. The breakdown of parents’ relationships is unequally distributed and hits the poorest the hardest. A teenager growing up in the poorest 20 per cent of households is two thirds more likely to experience family breakdown than a teenager in the top 20 per cent.”
Mr Lawes and CSJ argue that the benefits of marriage should, therefore, be shared equally.
The head of the CSJ family policy unit, Cristina Odone, writes in her foreword: “The consequences of family instability are alarming; while the benefits conferred by marriage are inspiring. It is therefore surprising that the Government consistently fails to distinguish between marriage and cohabitation.
“Official silence on this issue has sent out the message that marriage and cohabitation are interchangeable. Yet we have seen how the two structures lead to widely different outcomes. By ignoring this distinction, the government risks robbing couples of making an informed choice about what kind of relationship they should embark on.
“It will be difficult to short-change middle-class young people, as their parents are more likely to be married, and this cohort will know first-hand the advantages of matrimony. But to short-change young people in low income households, who are not likely to have enjoyed the lived experience of family stability, will be easier — and unforgivable.”
Read our special feature on weddings during the pandemic