How marriage does benefit your wealth, health and children

Maybe 'I Do'
Kevin Andrews
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- November 18, 2013

Married couples enjoy far greater wealth and health than those who cohabit, an influential think-tank revealed yesterday.

They are more likely to own their home, have better jobs and be more highly educated – and less likely to struggle to pay the bills.

They have less chance of splitting up and their children are less likely to smoke or take drugs, a report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies said.

One piece of research showed that married parents of a three-year-old were twice as likely as cohabiting couples to be in the wealthiest fifth of families. They were half as likely to be in the poorest fifth.

Married fathers were more than twice as likely as cohabiting fathers to have a professional occupation and in the sample studied 86 per cent of married couples were homeowners compared with 54 per cent of cohabitees.

The study found that teenagers whose parents cohabit were 10 per cent more likely to smoke or use cannabis by the age of 16 than children from married families.

The IFS admitted that no reason for the difference could be detected and that one explanation may be the positive effect on youngsters of being brought up by parents who are married.

The same positive effect of marriage could explain why married people stick together while cohabitees do not, it said. This goes against a previous IFS finding that ‘marriage itself appears to confer little, if any, benefit in terms of child development’.

It amounts to an acknowledgement that the benefits enjoyed by married couples and their children may not just be due to their class background or their education.

The findings are a major boost for David Cameron’s plan for a tax break for lower-paid married couples and for those ministers pressing for more tax and benefit policies to encourage marriage.

The IFS report, Cohabitation, Marriage, Relationship Stability and Child Outcomes, admits marriage itself may be one of the reasons that families are better off and enjoy better health.

‘We are not able to fully explain the differences in parents’ relationship stability or engagement in some risky behaviours by young people at age 16 using the observable characteristics at our disposal,’ it said.

The IFS report said there are a number of reasons why married families do better.

It found that cohabiting mothers are more anxious, more fragile and less in control of their lives than married mothers.

And the children of married parents score better in intelligence tests than those whose parents cohabit.

The researchers used several existing studies of young people together with a new study of the lives of 15,000 children born in the early 1990s in the Bristol area.

‘We are not always able to eliminate the difference in outcomes between married and cohabiting parents using only characteristics that are fixed, such as ethnicity, or observed in childhood, long before marriage decisions were taken,’ they said.

‘It is possible that we could be understating any potential positive impact of marriage if characteristics beneficial to child development or relationship stability are strongly influenced by the decision to marry.’

The signal that marriage may matter more than the IFS has admitted in the past comes at a sensitive time for Mr Cameron and the Coalition.

Last month he announced a tax break to help 2.6million married couples, saying marriage was ‘an institution that helps to build a strong society’.

The Prime Minister was criticised by his Liberal Democrat partners in the Coalition but the IFS findings may lead to Tory pressure for more policies to encourage marriage.

Former Chancellor Lord Lawson has called for fully transferable tax allowances for all married couples, to help stay-at-home mothers.

Tax expert Don Draper of Care, which campaigns for transferable tax allowances, said that the IFS study ‘does provide support for the argument that couples should be encouraged to get married’.

‘There may not be, in the IFS view, a strong rationale for this, but up to now some people have been saying there was no or little rationale.

Report: http://www.ifs.org.uk/comms/r87.pdf

Source: Steve Doughty, Daily Mail, October 25, 2013