Marriage has become a 'middle class secret' according to a newly released report from the Centre for Social Justice.
The report, Family Structure Still Matters, reveals a profound difference in the rates of marriage amongst high-income couples and low-income couples: 83% of high-income couples are married compared to only 55% of low-income couples.
Changing family structure
Family structure is rapidly changing in the UK, the report notes, with 'Cohabiting couple families… the fastest growing family type over the last decade.'
In fact, whilst divorce rates have been reducing, the rates of family breakdown has not. The CSJ argues that 'This is due to the increasing number of cohabitees who… separate at much higher rates than married couples.'
Marriage is a 'social justice issue'
This change in family structure has not, however, happened equally in society, with cohabitation over-represented at lower income levels.
This 'marriage gap' is therefore a 'social justice issue', the report suggests.
This leads to clear consequences for family stability: 'By the time they turn five, 53% of children of cohabiting parents will have experienced their parents’ separation; among five-year-olds with married parents, this is 15%.'
Ignored by the Government
Despite this clear 'marriage gap' between low and high income households, and the resulting instability low-income households face, the report argues that the Government is 'ignoring' the distinction between cohabiting and married couples:
'Evidence shows that the two family types are very different: marriage secures stability in a way cohabitation does not. Policy makers however do not distinguish between these two family structures. Government (and the OECD) collects data without differentiating between married and cohabiting couples.'
Ignoring the difference between marriage and cohabitation may make government Ministers feel less 'judgemental', but it does nothing for the poorest who are hit hardest by fractured families.
The report concludes with a robust challenge for the Government:
'The differences between co-habitation and marriage are not negligible. The Government should stop pretending they are.'