Don’t marry (or live with) an Australian?

I remember reading an article a couple of years ago by Christina Hopkinson, who is married to a divorce lawyer. I especially liked one of the bits of advice she plans to pass on to their children. It is never to marry an Australian!

She quickly points out that this is nothing against Australians but merely the considerable difficulty of trying to manage an intimate relationship against the backdrop of a gulf in geographical distance and the tricky decision of where to live. I have several close friends who manage this difference brilliantly, I think. However I don’t get to see the inner workings of their marriage. So it may not be all sweetness and light. Regardless, couples divided by origin have more differences to manage than most couples. And it is how you manage your differences that pretty much determines how well your relationship works out in the long run.

I say all this in the light of new Census data, out today, showing that one in eleven couples do not share the same ethnic origin. Couples who are not married are more likely to be inter-racial than those who are married.

Now, I haven’t looked at whether interracial couples are indeed less likely to stay together, as one might predict. However about six years ago, I did look at break-up rates of couples depending whether they share the same religion or not, which is not far off as a concept. My data came from the Millennium Cohort Study of 14,000 mothers who had babies in the year 2000 or 2001. I looked at who had stayed together and who had split up by their child’s fifth birthday.

Because it’s also important to find out whether couples are married, older, richer, better educated, etc as well as their shared religious beliefs – which I didn’t do at the time – I never published my findings. But as an indicator, they are pretty illuminating.

What I found was that couples of different beliefs had consistently higher family breakdown risk. So regardless of your faith, if you are a Christian living with a non-Christian, a Moslem living with a non-Moslem, etc, then your risk of breaking up early on as a new parent is much higher. The one time it made sense to pair up with somebody outside your faith was if you had no faith at all. But that just brought you back down from very high risk to a more normal level!

The chart below shows the key differences over five years.

Different faiths

So will I be telling my own children not to marry an Australian? Of course I will!

But if that’s what they decided to do, I should be as thrilled as I would be with any other choice they made. The only thing I would want to know is how they plan to manage their differences in the longer term. Because whether you share different faiths or origins, you’re going to have a whole lot more differences to manage.


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