Bad news for marriage, say researchers

One in five young people in Britain will never tie the knot, causing far more children to be born outside marriage, according to new research released today.

A succession of partnerships was deemed almost certain to replace marriage for around 20 per cent of couples in the future, researchers at Essex University found.

The study showed considerable change in the living arrangements and expectations of young people in the last 20 years.

In Britain in 1973, two-thirds of women in their late 20s were married with children and most of the remainder were either single and living at home or married with no children as yet.

By 1997, less than a third of British women in their late 20s were married with children, with a massive increase in the number of single women living away from their parents, one-parent families and cohabiting couples.

Professor John Ermisch of the Institute for Social and Economic Research in Essex found that many more young people had no plans for marriage in the future.

Two-fifths of never-married childless women under 35 were in a relationship living apart from their partner, with 40% of these holding no plans to live with or marry their opposite number.

Nearly a quarter of children were found to be born to couples living together but unmarried, compared with only 2% 20 years ago.

In the 1990s, seven out of 10 couples in their first serious relationship were found to have "lived in sin" before getting married in contrast to only one-third in the 1970s.

But most couples said they saw no advantage of living together over marriage, with three in five cohabiting couples tying the knot and 35% splitting up within 10 years.

Prof Ermisch said: "Family life is undergoing radical changes - notably an increase in cohabiting unions, delay in marriage and motherhood and a dramatically increasing proportion of births outside marriage.

"The sharp rise in cohabitation in first partnerships has important implications for the types of families in which children grow up.

"Children born within a cohabiting union are less likely to live their entire childhood with both natural parents, which is a great cause for concern.

"The rise in childbearing within cohabiting unions suggests that increasing numbers of British children will spend significant parts of their childhood in families with only one parent."

The new report follows hot on the heels of National Marriage Week - a campaign to restore the institution to its status as the central pillar of family life.