Marriage on the Downturn

Divorce Far From Being the Main Problem

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

A significant amount of the media coverage about the deliberations of the Synod on the Family was about whether those who are divorced and re-married outside of the Church could receive Communion.

No data has been forthcoming on the number of people who are in this situation, but some recent reports show a significant trend away from marriage in the first place. Thus, while divorce is without doubt a serious problem, if people do not even marry at all then the institutions of marriage and the family are in trouble.

The first study comes from the English organization, the Marriage Foundation. The Oct. 10 report revealed that the United Kingdom has the highest proportion of children living in lone parent households of all the countries in Western Europe.

According to the statistics agency of the European Union, Eurostat, 24% of UK children lived in lone parent households in 2012. This is almost identical to the 23.8% figure produced by the UK’s Office for National Statistics. While lower, the average level for the EU countries overall is still at 16%.

A number of countries had levels over 20%, including Belgium, Denmark, France, and Ireland.

Some major Western European countries have relatively lower levels of single parenthood, such as Italy at 12%, but even so it is on the rise, compared with 9% in 2005.

“These figures are alarming. Evidence clearly shows the negative impact of being brought up in single parent homes,” commented Harry Benson, Research Director for the Marriage Foundation.

“These children are less likely to attain qualifications, more prone to experience unemployment and are more likely to commit crime,” he said.

Unmarried parents

Analysis of the statistics by the Marriage Foundation, Benson explained, shows that in Western Europe the rising levels of lone parenthood is not the result of divorce, but the result of a dramatic increase in the number of children brought up by unmarried parents.

In the UK, for example, the divorce rate has fallen in recent years, while the number of lone parent households continued to rise.

“We need to restore trust and confidence in marriage for the sake of generations to come,” Benson insisted.

The proportion of lone parent households is set to increase in the future, as a result of ever-increasing numbers of children being born outside marriage.

Even in Mediterranean countries the percentage of births outside marriage, which were very rare until a couple of decades ago, is reaching high levels. It Italy it is at 28%, Spain 36% and Malta 26%. In the UK it is at an alarming 48%.

In Eastern Europe by contrast the main contributor to single parent households is still divorce.

The cost to society of single parenthood is very high. According to the report in the UK the cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown is estimated at 46 billion pounds a year, more than the defence budget.

A similar situation exists in the United States. A Sept. 24 report from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends found that the number of American adults who have never been married is at an all time high.

In 2012, one in five adults ages 25 and older (about 42 million people) had never been married, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of census data. By comparison in 1960 only 9% in that age range had never been married.

The Pew report noted that a number of factors have contributed to this change. In part it is due to people marrying at a later age, but the number of adults cohabiting and having children outside marriage has also increased substantially.

Never married

According to projections by Pew Research, when today’s young adults reach their mid-40s to mid-50s, a record high share (25%) is likely to have never been married.

While economic considerations are far from being the only factor in changes in patterns of marriage nevertheless national fiscal policies do have an influence.

A report just published by Ireland’s Iona Institute, titled “Taxation and the Family: Restoring Balance and Fairness,” accuses the government of weakening support for the family by means of the tax and spending policies.

In the last few decades the tax system has been changed to take less account of dependents, especially children, in the family home. This, the report said, is a form of individualization as each taxpayer is considered as an individual and it ignores the children and other dependents they may have.

This means that the one-income married family is at a great disadvantage compared to two-income families and single parent families.

Marriage and family life face grave challenges. Going beyond the media hype and publicity by special interest groups, the work of the Synod will be essential if the Church is to deal effectively with these problems.

On the NET:

Marriage Foundation report –

Pew Center report –

Iona Institute report –

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry

Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation