Marriage

Marriage is a key social institution ordained by God which is good for the family and therefore good for society.  CARE is committed to marriage as defined by scripture and upheld across the centuries, i.e. the voluntary union for life of one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others. 

Although the state has provided an evolving legal framework for marriage this has always been for the purpose of regulating marriage, the definition of which predates the state and the law.[i]

Why marriage?

Marriage brings with it benefits which go far beyond the fulfilment of romantic love.  Marriage is good for adults, children and communities.  There is compelling evidence that the stability and durability of the family unit is closely linked with the quality of the commitment and relationship of a couple.  It is in this regard that marriage – with its distinctive commitment requiring long-term emotional, economic and social investment as well as sacrifice – is so important.  This level of commitment generates stability, security and trust, giving and longevity within relationships which in turn brings many benefits, from health and happiness to general well-being.

Our faith tells us that marriage is an institution ordained by God and a high calling that should be respected and honoured. The book of Hebrews states that “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure[1].

Mindful of this it comes as no surprise that the benefits of marriage to society are confirmed again and again through social science research which is far too extensive to cover here. Just to provide a brief taster, though, the work of Erin E. Horn and others highlights the fact that marriage has both physical and psychological advantages;[2] Christine Proulx, meanwhile, Assistant Director at the University of Missouri has shown that married people are also less likely to develop chronic illnesses.[3] Similarly research conducted by the research organisation One Plus One shows that married couples are also less likely to suffer from psychological disorders as a result of relationship breakdown.

Marriage is also beneficial to children; research carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions reveals that children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to live in poverty when compared with lone parents and married couples[4].

Marriage Facts & Figures

  • Regardless of socio-economic status and education, cohabiting couples are between two and two and a half times more likely to break-up than equivalent married couples.[ii]  Although unmarried parents make up just 20 per cent of all couples with children in the UK, they account for 51 per cent of annual family breakdown.[iii]

  • Cohabiting couples are approximately three times more likely to have split up by the time their child is five years old.[iv]

  • 93 per cent of couples who remain together by the time their child is 15 years old are married.[v]

  • 76 per cent of couples who marry before having children remain married, compared to 44 per cent of those who married after they had their first child.  Of couples who were cohabiting at the time of their first child’s birth and never took the decision to marry, only 31 per cent had avoided family breakdown by the time their child took their GCSEs.[vi]

  • “Marriage is important and has become a social justice issue – aspirations to marry are high throughout society but low-income communities face massive financial and cultural barriers to realising these.”[vii]

  • Even the poorest 20 per cent of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20 per cent of cohabiting couples.[viii]

  • The size of the health gain from marriage may be as large as the benefit from giving up smoking.[ix]

  • During early parenthood, the single biggest predictor of stability is whether the parents are married or not, even when controlling for age, income, education, benefits and ethnic group.[x]

  • Children are 60 per cent more likely to have contact with separated fathers if the parents were married.[xi]

  • The cost of family breakdown is extraordinary and continues to increase, from £37 billion per annum in 2009 to £48 billion in 2015 – equivalent to £1,820 per taxpayer.[xii]

  • Nearly 90 per cent of young people aspire to get married.[xiii]

Our Work

Some people argue that marriage is a private decision and look perplexed if you suggest that it is an appropriate subject for public policy. The truth is that while there is of course a sense in which the decision to get married is deeply personal, the consequences of that decision - for all the reasons set out above - significantly impact society as a whole and, crucially, for the better. Moreover, the institution of marriage is also public as a consequence of being regulated by law. Mindful of both these considerations it would be quite wrong not to fight for the very best public policy support for marriage which will, if successful, bring significant public dividends.

In approaching the subject of public policy and marriage it is, however, important to understand the kinds of things the state can do and the kinds of things the state cannot do. There is no magical public policy solution that can guarantee happy marriages. There are, however, important things the state can do to support the institution of marriage that will bring real public benefit.

  • In the first instance the state can and should fund marriage support services

  • In the second instance the state can and should ensure that its fiscal policy provides a framework that supports the institution of marriage in the tax system

  • Finally, the state can and should work to ensure that its benefit system does not have the unintended consequence of creating a ‘couple penalty,’ a fiscal incentive for couples with children on low to modest income to live apart.  (This is actually an obstacle to both marriage and cohabitation.) Read more about our work on Family and Tax.


[1] Hebrews 13:4, the New International Version Bible.

[2] Erin E. Horn et al, Accounting for the Physical and Mental Benefits of Entry into Marriage: A Genetically Informed Study of Selection and Causation, 22 October 2012

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3645280/

[3]Kathleen Lees, University Missouri Experts Determine Married Couples Happier than Unmarried or Widowed or Divorced Counterparts, 13 February 2013

 http://www.scienceworldreport.com/articles/4945/20130213/university-missouri-experts-determine-married-couples-happier.htm

[4]Department for Work and Pensions, Households Below Average Income: An Analysis of the Income Distribution 1994/5-2010/11, 2012

https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/228829/8483.pdf


[i]       This was codified in Hyde v Hyde and Woodmansee (1866) LR 1 P&D 130

[ii]       Green Paper on the Family, the Centre for Social Justice, 2010

[iii]      Benson. H, ‘Annual Family Breakdown in the UK’, Marriage Foundation, March 2017

[iv]      IFS Briefing Note BN107, Institute for Fiscal Studies, 2010, p.4

[v]       ‘The myth of “long-term stable relationships outside marriage”’, Marriage Foundation, May 2013, p.3

[vi]      ‘Get married BEFORE you have children’, Marriage Foundation, March 2015

[vii]     ‘Fully committed? How a Government could reverse family breakdown’, Centre for Social Justice, July 2014, p.19

[viii]     Benson, H. ‘The conflation of marriage and cohabitation in government statistics – a denial of difference rendered untenable by an analysis of outcomes’, Bristol Community Family Trust, 2006 NB. Age is another risk factor for relationship breakdown; however, marital status still has such a strong influence that even younger married mothers are more stable than older cohabiting mothers.

[ix]      Wilson, C. and Oswald, A. ‘How does marriage affect physical and psychological health?  A survey of the longitudinal evidence’, 2005

[x]       Benson. H, ‘The conflation of marriage and cohabitation in government statistics – a denial of difference rendered untenable by an analysis of outcomes’, Bristol Community Family Trust, 2006

[xi]      Amato, P. Meyers, C. and Emery, R. ‘Changes in non-resident father-child contact from 1976 to 2002’, Family Relations, 58, p.41-53

[xii]      ‘Counting the cost of family failure, 2016 update’, Relationships foundation, 2016, p.3

[xiii]     ‘Young people’s lives in Britain today’, The Opinion Research Business, 2000

Read our latest news on family and marriage here.

' That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife. '

Genesis 2:24 (NIV)