Cohabitation and the Rise of the Welfare State
The number of babies born to single mothers in the United Kingdom has fallen to its lowest level since 1986, the Times of England reported on November 28. However, nearly a third of UK children are born to couples who are not married but live together, and more than 1 in 10 British children have parents who live apart.
This means that almost half of British babies are born to unmarried parents, whether they are children of single mothers or cohabiting couples. These statistics show that the traditional family structure is continuing to decline—a trend that can only have disastrous consequences.
Cohabitation is not just a social trend. Evidence shows that it is often an economic decision. Ed West, a writer for the Spectator, wrote on December 2 about what he terms Britain’s “marriage gap.” In his article, he explained the deeper meaning of these statistics (emphasis added throughout):
Marriage is not easy and never has been …. Nevertheless, people have always accepted that marital unions and stable families make society healthier, happier and more prosperous.
Now it’s said that marriage is under threat in British society. It was recently revealed that almost half of children are born to unmarried parents; this figure, however, hides a bit of divergence. For the well-off, marriage rates are high, and have stayed high. It’s for those lower down the income scale that family life is changing.
There was no marriage gap between rich and poor a couple of generations ago, but one has been opening up. … [S]omeone in the top class (i.e., company directors, university lecturers, etc) is 48 percent more likely to be married than someone in the bottom social class (builders, office cleaners). At the turn of the century, the gap was 22 percent.
Starting in the 1960s, societal norms about single motherhood and cohabitation began to change. These changes have aligned more along economic than social lines. West wrote: “The Marriage Foundation recently discovered that 87 percent of mothers from higher income groups are married today, compared with just 24 percent of those at the other end of the social scale.”
As West pointed out, this “marriage gap” has two main causes: declining family values and economics. For many of those in the lower class, marriage is not an easy decision, or even a desirable one. He wrote:
[M]iddle-class unmarried men still face social pressure to do the honorable thing and pop the question, not by any overt pressure but by the simple example of their friendship group. For poorer families, that sense of expectation—obligation, even—has diminished, while the wealthier accrue the financial benefits of pooling their resources. …
It’s easy to sneer at the idea of people marrying for money, but financial interests have always played a part in people’s decision to marry. Until the industrial revolution, as many as 20 percent of Western Europeans did not marry at all, largely because of financial inability, rising to a quarter in troubled regions like Ireland.
West pointed out that “the welfare system makes [low-income] couples poorer together than they are apart.”
If single mothers stay single, they will get more government benefits than if they are married. The welfare state makes it possible for them to survive without a husband, often in a better financial situation than if they were married. The number of income-related benefits for low-income single mothers in the UK is astonishing. Single parents on low incomes may qualify for a variety of programs, including: the Healthy Start scheme, which gives single parents weekly vouchers to spend on food or baby formula as well as free vitamin supplements; income support; an income-based jobseeker’s allowance; housing benefits, which can include having some or all of their rent paid by the government; tax reductions; and a £500 (us$670) Sure Start maternity grant. In addition, working mothers in the lower income brackets may be entitled to Statutory Maternity Pay (smp). If they are not eligible for that, they may be able to receive a maternity allowance instead.
Young single mothers under 20 years of age qualify for even more benefits, including financial assistance for school or college and help with paying child care. Single mothers age 16 to 19 can claim an allowance of £1,200 a year to help them through school or college.
For some mothers, the welfare system is a lifesaver. But the danger is when the welfare system increases the appeal for couples to remain unmarried in order to qualify for benefits—instead of helping them get out of difficult financial situations.
Women are also waiting longer to have children. The average first-time mother in 2016 was 28.8 years old. The Telegraph suggests that this may be because younger women are prioritizing their careers over family. Single career women often wait until their 30s or 40s to have children, instead of marrying earlier and having children in their 20s. The number of single mothers in the UK over age 45 has doubled in the last 10 years. The number of single mothers in their 30s has also increased substantially in that time, as has the number of cohabiting couples.
“To those who think marriage is a quaint irrelevance, such figures don’t matter,” West wrote. “But if you think that marriage is the most powerful sponsor of health, wealth and education, then it ought to be alarming.”
These trends are alarming. Strong families are the backbone of strong nations. If the family crumbles, the nation will be destroyed from the inside out. Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry wrote in the March 2009 Trumpet magazine, “Family is the rock-solid foundation on which a country’s superstructure is erected. That was the case for both America and Britain.”
Note the past tense there. That was the case for America and Britain—but no longer.
God ordained marriage. He designed family. But our societies are tearing these institutions apart, one potential family at a time.