New Census data shows that the married family continues its decline in Irish life. While it is still by the easily the predominant type of family overall, its dominance has declined with the rise of cohabiting couples, divorce and separation, and single-parent households.
Yesterday, the CSO released the Households and Family data from Census 2016. It showed that the percentage of children being raised in married households continues to fall, the number of children being raised by cohabiting couples is rising rapidly, the number of people who have been through a broken marriage has gone up, the number of children being raised in single parent households remains high and the percentage of the adult population that is married is going down.
Let’s quantify things:
- One of three children are now being raised in non-married households (the figure was less than 20pc 30 years ago).
- The number of cohabiting couples raising children has risen by over 15,000 since the 2011 Census.
- The total number of adults who have been through a broken marriage is now 283,802 (including those who have remarried). This is up from 40,000 in 1986.
- There were 218,817 single parent families in 2016. This is only up very slightly compared with 2011, although back in 1986 the number was just 104,713.
- The percentage of adults who are married has fallen to just 47.7pc.
Does any of this matter? It does if marriage is important and especially if it is important that children are raised by their two married, biological parents.
The Irish research does not testify to the importance of marriage as such, but to the benefits of the two-parent family. However, the vast majority of two-parent families investigated in the study are married families.
So, since marriage is important, and especially so for children, why is the decline of marriage in Ireland not a cause for concern among the people who run the country?
I think it is because those who run this country see the decline of marriage as a form of ‘liberation’. If alternatives to marriage are becoming more popular that must mean people today have more choices about the kinds of families they form and that can only be a good thing ‘choice’ is our highest value?
But this kind of thinking makes two very questionable assumptions. The first is that people living in those alternatives types of families have actually chosen to do so as their first preference compared with getting married. But many of those who cohabit are doing so with a view to eventually marrying, and many of those living in single parent families are separated or divorced and without doubt some of those single parents who have never been married would prefer to have the father around to help them raise their child.
(It might be said that the separated or divorced are glad to be out of their marriages, but some people get divorced against their will and no-one can ever be happy that the dreams they had for their marriage ended up turning to dust).
The second assumption is that the rise of alternatives to marriage has no downside, but as we have seen, that is emphatically not the case.
Therefore, we need to get beyond the present ‘happy-clappy’ talk about the changing Irish family and instead see that the decline of marriage is a bad thing overall and to start talking about it in these terms. We certainly ought to do that if we are really the kind of child-centred society we like pretend we are.