Married parents “twice as likely” to stay together as cohabiting couples, study reveals

Married parents are “almost twice as likely” to stay together as cohabiting ones, a major study has revealed.

Known as the “marriage gap”, the finding is part of a new report published by the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) exploring the outcomes of married and unmarried families of different economic and social standings.

According to the paper, almost 83 per cent of high-income couples (defined as the top 20 per cent of earners) have tied the knot, compared to just 55 per cent of low-income (bottom 20 per cent of earners) couples.

But as family stability can “profoundly affect children’s outcomes” – with divorce and separation associated with worse health and higher school exclusion rates – the gap between wealthy and poor families may be widening.

For example, one in two (53 per cent) children of cohabiting parents will have experienced their parents’ separation by the time they are five, compared to just 15 per cent of children with married parents.

And while married families remain the most common family type in the UK, the proportion as a whole has declined from 69.1 per cent in 2008 to 66.5 per cent in 2019.

The proportion of cohabiting couples, meanwhile, has rapidly increased and now accounts for almost one in five (19.3 per cent) families.

Commenting on the findings, Cristina Odone, of the CSJ, said: “The consequences of family instability are alarming; while the benefits conferred by marriage are inspiring. It is therefore surprising that Government consistently fails to distinguish between marriage and cohabitation.

“In its language around family structure, including, crucially in its data collection, Government persists in blurring the two categories of “married” and “cohabiting”.

“By ignoring this distinction, the government risks robbing couples of making an informed choice about what kind of relationship they should embark on. It will be difficult to short-change middle-class young people, as their parents are more likely to be married, and this cohort will know first-hand the advantages of matrimony.

“But to short-change young people in low-income households, who are not likely to have enjoyed the lived experience of family stability, will be easier – and unforgivable.”

The report adds: “The benefits conferred by marriage should be shared equally.”

To access the full report, please click here.

For family law support and advice, including on marriage and cohabitation agreements, please get in touch with our expert team today.

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Alison Green
Alison joined Mackrell.Solicitors in 1989 and qualified as a solicitor in 1991, becoming a partner in the firm in 2010. Her expertise covers matrimonial work, including divorce and the associated financial and children issues; pre and post-nuptial agreements; co-habitation disputes; civil partnership agreements and the breakdown of civil partnerships.