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“One of society’s biggest problems today is that we’ve allowed relationships to be accepted as impermanent, particularly marriage”. ~ Anon

I am a firm believer in marriage, and the benefits it brings to spouses, their family unit, and society as a whole.  Often, people will try to convince me that there is no difference between co-habitating and being married, and that a piece of paper doesn’t make a relationship stronger.  The facts below demonstrate otherwise, and make clear the benefits of marriage. I will let those facts speak for themselves, and allow you to make your mind up as to whether a piece of paper does or doesn’t make a difference.

Co-Habitation or Marriage?

Cohabitation in Great Britain more often functions as a prelude to marriage or a trial marriage rather than a lasting alternative to marriage. Co-habitation suggests a temporary relationship and one that is lacking in commitment.  The benefits and protections accruing to marriage are largely due to “commitment”. The long-term nature of commitment allows couples to risk specialising or letting go of domestic roles. This is an efficient arrangement in terms of time, stress and money. Commitment motivates couples to look out for one another, providing an explanation behind gains in health and wealth. Married couples also receive more social and financial support from both extended families. [1]

Cohabitees are far more likely to break-up than married couples. The median length of UK cohabitations is under 2 years. Just 4% of these last more than 10 years [2]. 84% of UK cohabiting couples dissolve within 5 years[3]. Unmarried parents are still 4-5 times more likely to break up than married parents [4]  Within 5 years of the birth of a child, 8% of UK married couples have split up, compared to 52% of cohabitees, and 25% of those who marry after the birth [5].

Recent figures published by the ONS show that by 2010 the number of children in England and Wales born outside marriage had reached 338,790, This amounts to just under half (46.8%) of the 723,165 babies born that year. In 1971, 91.6% of births were within marriage[6]

The number of opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased significantly, from 2.1 million in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2011. The number of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased significantly, from 1.3 million to 1.8 million over the same period

There were 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2011, a figure which has grown steadily but significantly from 1.7 million in 2001

The number of married couple families decreased by 262,000 between 2001 and 2011 to 12.0 million in 2011 – this was the only family type to have decreased during this time-period.  Single parent families saw an increase with 2.0 million lone parents with dependent children in the UK in 2011, a figure which has grown significantly from 1.7 million in 2001. Lone parents with dependent children represented 26 per cent of all families with dependent children in 2011, an increase of two percentage points since 2001. Mothers make up 92% of lone parents. [7]

62 per cent of dependent children lived in a married couple family in 2011, a decrease from 68 per cent in 2001. Over the same period, the percentage of dependent children living in opposite sex cohabiting couple families increased by four percentage points to 14 per cent, and those living in lone parent families increased by two percentage points to 24 percent. [8]

The effects of Marriage on Children

Children born into married unions are estimated   to be twice as likely as those born into cohabiting unions to spend their entire childhood with both natural parents (70 percent versus 36 percent).[9] Only 8 percent of children born into a married household see their parents split before their

Fifth birthday, whereas 52 percent born into a cohabiting household see their parents split. Marrying after the birth is associated with a reduction in the risk of break-up—down to 25 percent. [10]   In Britain, less than half of children in lone-mother families see their fathers once a week, and the percentage is even smaller where the father was never married to his child’s mother.

Twenty to thirty percent of non-resident fathers have not seen their children in the last year.[11]

There is even growing evidence that remaining in an unhappy marriage might have less of a negative effect on father-child relationships than divorce[12] In Britain, two-parent families are half as likely as lone mother families to live in poverty.[13] Children living in lone-parent households were still 80 percent more likely to have health symptoms and illness such as pains, headaches, stomach aches, and feeling sick.[14]


Children are safer:

Marriage protects children from abuse, while cohabitation increases the risk. Children are much safer being brought up in a home with a father in it; fathers play an important role in protecting their children from harm.

One UK study found that rates of serious child abuse were 6 times higher in stepfamilies, 14 times higher with mother alone, 20 times higher with biological parents cohabiting, 20 times higher with father alone, and 33 times higher with mother cohabiting, all compared to living with both biological parents married.[15] Other US studies confirm this greater risk of abuse from a live-in non-parent at 6-40 times [16]. The greater risk of an under two-year-old child being killed by a live-in non-parent is 3-100 times [17]


 Consequences of divorce for children

Although a child’s emotional well-being can improve following divorce from a “high-conflict” marriage, the majority of divorces follow “low-conflict” marriages: these have the most damaging immediate effects on children [18]. A landmark 25-year US study of 93 children of divorce found that the immediate trauma of divorce is less important than during the first ten years of adult life, when man-woman relationships come to centre stage [19]. Adult children of divorce are 2-3 times more likely to cohabit and, if they do marry, are far more vulnerable to divorce, especially early in their marriage and the younger they were when their own parents divorced [20].

A UK longitudinal study of 8-32 year old males found that parental divorce before age 10 was a major predictor of later adolescent delinquency and adult criminality [21].

Children of cohabiting parents performed worse than pupils born to married couples in assessments including vocabulary, reading, and mathematics and making patterns at the ages of three, five and seven.

They were also significantly more likely to show signs of hyperactivity, lack of attention, and problems forming friendships with other children than pupils whose parents were married [22]

Benefits of marriage for adults/parents

Married couples report greater sexual satisfaction. The highest levels of sexual satisfaction were reported by individuals who were in married, monogamous relationships, while those who were single or cohabiting reported slightly lower levels of sexual satisfaction.[23]

Married women report higher levels of physical and psychological health. Formerly married women reported the worst health while never married women fell between these two groups. Compared with unmarried women, married women had less job stress, environment stress, child stress, financial stress, and relationship stress. Health measures included self-rated health, distress level, chronic illness, and a number of stress types, ranging from social life stress to job strain.[24]

Married men appear to have greater work commitment, less likelihood of resigning, and healthier and more stable personal routines (including sleep, diet and alcohol consumption). Husbands also benefit from both the work effort and emotional support that they receive from wives[25]

Married men earn more money than do single men  with  similar education and job histories[26]

Marriedmen make more money. Taking into consideration a number of factors including educational attainment, compared with unmarried peers, married men earned, on average, 20 percent more in wages.[31]

Married people are more likely to volunteer. Compared to unmarried peers, married adults were1.3 times more likely to have volunteered for social services and averaged 1.4 times more volunteer hours.[27]

Being married increases the likelihood of affluence. This association applied to all age groups.[28]

Married people tend to experience less depression and fewer problems with alcohol. Men who married and stayed married tended to be less depressed than those who remained single. Among women, marriage was associated with fewer alcohol problems.[29]

Getting married increases the probability of moving out of a poor residential area. Marriage nearly doubled the probability that a person would move from a poor to a non-poor residential area. Likewise, the dissolution of a marriage more than doubled the probability that a person would move from a non-poor to poor residential area. Among blacks, marital dissolution increased the likelihood of moving from a non-poor to a poor residential area almost six-fold.[30]

Ever-married women are less likely to experience poverty. Compared to never-married peers, women who had ever been married were substantially less likely to be poor—regardless of race, family background, non-marital births, or education. Ever-married women have a poverty rate that was roughly one-third lower than the poverty rate of never-married women. Currently married women had an even lower probability of living in poverty—about two-thirds lower than other women.[32]

Marriage is associated with a lower mortality risk. Compared to married individuals, those who have never been married had nearly twice the mortality risk. Divorced or separated individuals ran a mortality risk more than 50 percent higher than those who were married. The black-white mortality gap narrowed when marital status was taken into account.[33]

Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.’ [34]




1 – The Case For Marriage by Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher (2000)

2 – Ermisch, J. and Francesconi, M., Cohabitation in Great Britain: Not for Long, but Here to Stay, Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex, 1998

3 –  Kiernan, K. and Estaugh, V. (1993) Cohabitation Extra-marital Childbearing and Social Policy,  Joseph Rowntree Foundation/Family Policy Studies Centre.

4 – R Boheim and J Ermisch, Royal Economic Society Conference, Nottingham, 1999

5 – Kiernan, K. E. (1999) ‘Childbearing outside marriage in Western Europe

6 – . Office of National Statistics; Measuring national well-being: Households and families, 2012

7 – Office of National Statistics; Measuring national well-being: Households and families, 2012

8 –  Office of National Stastics, Families and households, 2001 to 2011

9 – Ermisch, J. and Francesconi, M., ‘Patterns of Household and Family Formation’, in Berthoud, R. and Gershuny, J. (eds.),  Seven Years in the Lives of British Families, Bristol: The Policy Press, 2000, pp. 38-40.

10 – Kiernan, K., ‘Childbearing Outside Marriage in Western Europe’, Population Trends 98, 1999, pp. 11- 20.

11 – Burghes, L., Clarke, L., and Cronin, N.,  Fathers and Fatherhood in Britain, London: Family Policy Studies Centre, 1997. Based on Simpson, B., McCarthy, P. and Walker, J.,  Being There: Fathers after Divorce, University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Relate Centre for Family Studies, 1995; and Bradshaw, J. and Millar, J.,  Lone Parent Families in the UK, Research Report No 6., Department of Social Security. HMSO, 1991; and Bradshaw, J. Stimson, C., Williams, J. and Skinner, C.,  Non Resident Fathers in Britain. Paper presented to ESRC Programme on Population and Household Change seminar, 13 March 1997.

12 –  Amato and Booth, A Generation At Risk, 1997.

13- Households Below Average Income 1994/95-2000/01, Department for Work and Pensions, London: The Stationery Office, 2002, pp. 81. These figures are for Before Housing Costs. After Housing Costs figures retain the same ratio, 72 percent versus 36 percent. See also p. 141.

14 – Cockett and Tripp, The Exeter Family Study, 1994, p. 21

15 – Whelan, Robert. 1993. Broken Homes and Battered Children. London: Family Education Trust

16 – Daly, M.; M. Wilson (1985). “Child Abuse and Other Risks of Not Living with Both Parents”

17 – Daly, Martin; Margo Wilson (1998). The Truth About Cinderella: a Darwinian View of Parental Love

18 – Booth, A. & Amato, P. 2001. Parental pre-divorce relations and offspring post-divorce well-bei ng

19 – Wallerstein, 2000 – The Unexpected Legacy Of Divorce: A 25 Year landmark Study

20 – Amato & Booth, 1997 – A Generation at Risk: Growing Up in an Era of Family Upheaval

21 – Farrington, 1990 – Implications of Criminal Career Research For the Prevention of re-offending

22 – Millienum Cohort Study, MCS4 (2008)

23 –  Christopher F. Scott and Susan Sprecher, “Sexuality in Marriage, Dating, and Other Relationships: A Decade Review,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 62, No. 4 (November 2000), pp. 999–1017.

24 – Peggy McDonugh, Vivienne Walters, and Lisa Strohschein, “Chronic Stress and the Social Patterning of Women’s Health in Canada,”Social Science and Medicine, Vol. 54 (2002), pp. 767–782.

25 – Waite, L.J. and Gallagher, M., The Case for Marriage: Why Married People are Happier, Healthier, and Better-Off Financially, New York: Doubleday, 2000, pp. 97-109

26 – O’Connor, T.G. et al., ‘Frequency and Predictors of Relationship Dissolution in a Community Sample in England’,  Journal of Family Psychology 13(3), 1999, pp. 436-449; Brown and Booth, ‘Cohabitation Versus Marriage: A Comparison of Relationship Quality’, 1996.

27 – Corey L. M. Keyes, “Social Civility in the United States,” Sociological Inquiry, Vol. 72, No. 3 (2002), pp. 393–408.

28 – Thomas A. Hirschl, Joyce Altobelli, and Mark R. Rank, “Does Marriage Increase the Odds of Affluence? Exploring the Life Course Probabilities,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 65, No. 4(November 2003), pp. 927–938.

29 – Allan V. Horwitz, Helene R. White, and Sandra Howell-White,“Becoming Married and Mental Health: A Longitudinal Study of a Cohort of Young Adults,” Journal of Marriage and Family, Vol. 58(November 1996), pp. 895–907.

30 – Scott J. South and Kyle D. Crowder, “Escaping Distressed Neighborhoods: Individual, Community, and Metropolitan Influences,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 102, No. 4 (January1997), pp. 1040–1084.

31 – Kate Antonovics and Robert Town, “Are All the Good Men Married? Uncovering the Sources of the Marital Wage Premium,” American Economic Review, Vol. 94 (May 2004), pp. 317–321.

32 – Daniel T. Lichter, Deborah Roempke, and Brian J. Brown, “Is Marriage a Panacea? Union Formation Among Economically Disadvantaged Unwed Mothers,” Social Problems, Vol. 50 (2003),pp. 60–86.

33 – Stephanie A. Bond Huie, Robert A. Hummer, and Richard G. Rogers,“Individual and Contextual Risks of Death among Race and Ethnic Groups in the United States,” Journal of Health and Social Behavior,Vol. 43 (2002), pp. 359–381.

34 –  Why Marriage Matters: Twenty-One Conclusions from the Social Sciences, New York: Institute for American Values, 2002.