55% of parents married when first child born, statistics reveal

This headline demonstrates that marriage is still by some distance the most common relationship status for parents, for first and all subsequent births.  This information is drawn from the Millennium Cohort Study, which holds a wealth of data on the lives of nearly 19,000 babies born in England and Wales between 1 September 2000 and 31 August 2001.[1]   The table and graph below[2] demonstrate not only that marriage is the most common parental status for first births, but that incidence of marriage rises to more than 68% for subsequent births.

What is more, the study is purposely deigned to be disproportionately representative of areas of England and Wales with higher than average levels of child poverty and also areas with higher than average ethnic minority representation.[3] This is relevant in that even when taking account for groups where marriage could be seen as less customary it still remains by far the most usual parental status in regard to childbirth.

In addition, it is striking to note just how popular marriage is in comparison to the next highest parental status, cohabitation. It would be interesting to understand more about why couples clearly believe marriage to be preferable to other relationship types when raising children. Although the Millennium Cohort Study doesn’t delve into this area, other studies have pointed to the unique stability marriage brings, irrespective of other factors such as age and income.[4] Whilst acknowledging that these factors can have an impact in regard to stability, it is interesting to note both couples’ preference for marriage and the link therein to increased stability.

Given the above, one would perhaps expect the government to do more to recognise and promote both marriage and family stability. In this regard, the government did commit to introducing a transferable tax allowance for married couples in the Coalition Agreement, yet at present this commitment has yet to be met. [5] This is somewhat puzzling given that this policy both recognises the importance of marriage and is progressive in disproportionately favouring poorer families.[6]

All in all, the Millennium Cohort Study makes it clear that marriage is far and away the most popular context in which to bring up children. Given this reality, it will be intriguing to observe how in terms of policy commitments the Coalition Government addresses marriage and married families with children.

[2] Data taken from Millennium Cohort Study, Wave 2 (child aged 3 years)

[4] See for example Benson, Married and unmarried family breakdown. Key statistics explained, 2010. Available viahttp://www.bcft.co.uk/2010%20Family%20policy,%20breakdown%20and%20structure.pdf

[5] The Coalition Agreement, Cabinet Office, 2010, p.32

[6]  Figure 4.4, Adam et al, Taxes and Benefits: The Parties plans, 2010 election briefing note no.13, IFS, 2010.

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