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British families among most unstable in developed world

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Britain has some of the most unstable families in the developed world, a new study has found.

Figures released by the Marriage Foundation show that the majority of British children born to co-habiting couples will see their parents break up, while a third of British 12-year-olds have seen their married parents separate.

The Foundation's Chairman, Sir Paul Coleridge, described the figures as a "loud wake-up call" to the UK's family breakdown "epidemic".

Britain has highest breakdown rate

The international study of 100 countries found that three in five British children (62%) born to unmarried couples experience family breakdown before they hit their teen years. This stood in contrast to 45% of American children, 15% of Belgian children and 6% of Spanish children.  

But even married families in Britain were found to have one of the highest rates of family breakdown in Europe.

A third of British 12-year-olds whose parents were married when they were born have experienced family breakdown – compared to 9% in Austria and 11% in France.

Marriage correlates with stability

More generally, the study showed that across the globe, co-habiting couples are more likely to be unstable than those who are married.

In the UK, children born to cohabiting parents are 94% more likely to see their parents break up before they reach the age of 12, than children who are born to married parents.

Spain, Bulgaria, Italy and Georgia had the best records of families staying together.

The study's conclusion states: "Using both individual-level and country-level data, we have shown that births to cohabiting unions contribute to instability in children's family lives".

"There is much variation between countries in the amount of instability, but there are few exceptions to the pattern: children born to marital unions have the best chance of stability across various cultures, legal systems, welfare regimes, and levels of cohabitation."

Marriage, not education, is key

The study also found that higher levels of education do not correlate with couples staying together. 

In the overwhelming majority of countries, the least educated married couples were shown to be far less likely to break up than the most educated cohabiting parents.

The conclusion went on: "While growth in cohabitation tends to close the socioeconomic gap between cohabiting and married couples, it does not close the stability gap for their children. In other words, marriage seems to be associated with more family stability for children across much of the globe."

'Is anyone listening to the children?'

Sir Paul Coleridge commented:

"The findings of this study are yet another loud wake-up call about the lack of regard we have in the UK towards the vital importance of family stability. How many more surveys and reports do we need before government puts this problem at the very top of the social justice agenda?

"No doubt our all-consuming obsession with personal development, self-reliance and career aspiration benefits the economy, but is anyone listening to the children or feeling their pain?"

Championing marriage

He went on: "This research is yet further justification for continuing to champion marriage over all other arrangements leading to the birth and upbringing of children. Across the globe the children of married couples fare best.

"Stability is the name of the game; stability in a child's life is the number one key factor over all others.

"We are facing a family breakdown epidemic in this country, the highest rates of family collapse on record ever."

Related Links: 
UK families among most unstable in the developed world (The Marriage Foundation)  
The cohabitation go round: Cohabitation and family instability across the globe (The Marriage Foundation) 



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