To have and to hold – but not necessarily to marry

The Observer, 15 July 2013

Research consistently shows worse outcomes for children who live in single-parent households, but does it really matter if two people parenting a child are married or not?

“We all should be concerned about children being born into fragile unions,” said Penny Mansfield, director of relationships charity OnePlusOne. “Studies show very few people are against marriage; most think it is a good thing. But what is more important is a stable, committed relationship. Parental relationships are more fragile than they used to be. It’s the ‘slide and decide’ effect where (usually) men slide into a relationship and cohabit but haven’t made a decision about whether they want to be in it. Children coming along add stresses, and they decide the relationship isn’t working.”

She said relationship breakdown costs the country £46bn a year, while the government was spending just £70m over four years on relationship support. “We need to be supporting couples to think about whether they can form a team with their partner before they have children, whether they marry or not.”

The younger and poorer a couple are, the more likely their relationship is to break up, she added. “Being well-funded and well-founded – that is to say better-off people who have resources, good educations and stable family backgrounds – will do better in a relationship.”

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