Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A turn-up for the books? Not really...

In a press release issued today the Institute of Fiscal Studies has said that marriage does not make relationships between parents more stable, according to new research. Whilst it is true that parents who are cohabiting when their child is born are three times more likely to split up by the time their child is five than married parents, this is almost entirely because they are "typically younger, less well off, less likely to own their own homes, have fewer educational qualifications and are less likely to plan their pregnancies than married people". To put it another way, "while married couples have more stable relationships than couples who cohabit, this is not because they are married, but because of the other characteristics they have that lead to marriage".

This cannot be music to the ears of the government (at least the Conservative part of the government), for whom promoting marriage is a key part of their family policy. Not that I'm sorry - I always preferred the previous government's view that all types of relationship are equally valid. It is also not exactly surprising. The idea that going through a marriage ceremony after being persuaded to do so by the government will somehow glue a relationship together has always struck me as somewhat absurd. It is not for governments to tell us how to live our lives, but rather for them to do everything they can to improve the lives that we choose to live.

And on that subject, perhaps the government could now turn its attention towards granting proper rights for cohabitees...

7 comments:

  1. Carl Gardner7 July 2010 11:02

    Don't you contradict yourself at the end, John? If

    It is not for governments to tell us how to live our lives, but rather for them to do everything they can to improve the lives that we choose to live

    then surely it should respect our right to choose to live together without being subjected by law to formal responsibilities?

    It seems to me that the "rights for cohabitees" movement is every bit as nannying as the pro-marriage lobby. Perhaps less so, since even those Tories who'd favour marriage financially (something I oppose) don't actually want to go as far as to dragoon people into getting married.

    Lord Lester in his recent bill did indeed want to dragoon cohabitants into legal relationships regardless of their wishes (though I accept he was prepared to exempt them subject only to their paying unnecessary fees to solicitors for unnecessary services).

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  2. I don't think that there is any contradiction. When people choose to cohabit, surely they accept responsibilities? Why should they be allowed to walk away from those responsibilities?

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  3. This is an old irreconcilable difference. To seek a different line, though if all relationships are equally valid (by which I understand us to mean contributing equally to the general sum of human and social good)and all valid relationships are to result in equal responsibilities (which is not yet the position but is the logical terminus of the proposition)then two questions suggest themselves:

    (a) Why should the state then bother to badge or kitemark any kind of relationship, as marriage/civil partnership have then become merely sub-brands of valid responsible relationship?
    (b) If the answer to (a) is "The state should not bother" then we are returned to a situation where there is no overt badge or brand of a valid responsible relationship, except more or less vague words such as "living together as man and wife/civil partners". The clock is then zeroed back to the 11th or 12th centuries, before the Christian Church hijacked the civil contract of marriage by offering a definitive badge or kitemark and began hacking away at the validity of "irregular" relarionships whether marriage or concubinage.

    I will not attempt to justify marriage/civil partnership as an institution per se, as that would court circular argument, but is not the functional virtue of marriage/civil partnership that it is a voluntary and deliberate act, a buying-in to a set of rules and responsibilities, a readily recognisable set of rights and responsibilities? It has always seemed to me irrational that so much of the justification for widening the types of relationship that bring with them responsibilities is that the relationships are so often created un-intentionally, by default, or drift until one or the other party feels "stuck". This uncertainty, the absence of a kitemark or clear on/off switch could be seen as a deterrent to accepting the responsibility that we want to encourage in relationships: if my relationship becomes cohabiting-ish I don't know what will be made of it, but I had better let my friend just get on with life on his/her own and avoid that uncertainty even if there is a child.

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  4. With respect, no one is proposing that cohabitees should have the same rights as married couples.

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  5. If you put in a co-habiting law, then fewer people will live together. There is enough sexual politics over the last 40 years for a thousand years. It is time to help people, not drive them apart. I would suggest abolish the csa and bring in pre nups, then leave well alone for a thousand years. It is progressive laws which have created the problems of low marriage rate and high separation rates. People need to need each other, the safety net, together without fault has resulted in bad behaviour and too much government intervention and children not knowing who their male role model is, the men their Mum lives with or the Father they rarely if ever see. Bit of a mess really.

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  6. Please keep the comments relevant to the post!

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  7. Ok, I agree with the IFS. From what I have seen it rings true. People who have children younger tend to split and those who do it later tend to stay together more. Would be interested on if I study supports this like this study doesn't support IDS' preposition. I got married yound, had children young, and divorced young (before children 5), so I do back my hypothesis and not IDS' Tory one.

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