European champions again …

For the second year running, UK is the champion of Europe, at least across the western half.

It’s a competition we really don’t want to win. It means Britain is once more on top of the league table of family breakdown, joined in equal first place by the Danes, and just pipping the Belgians and the French to the post. We only miss out on the full European title because the hapless Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania are even worse than us.

New data from Eurostat – based on the European Labour Force Survey – show that 23% of British children were living in lone parent families in 2013, down slightly on the previous year but up since the change of government in 2010.

Even these figures understate the full extent of the problem.

  • One in four children doesn’t sound so bad. But this is an average of children living in lone parent families across all age groups. It also ignores the additional children whose parents have gone on marry or re-partner.
  • Latest Census data for 2011, for example, shows that one in three children live in lone parent or step families.
  • By the time children enter their teenage years, the proportion not be living with both natural parents reaches just short of one in two.

As we approach the new election, I live in hope that political parties will grasp the nettle and recognise that there are potential solutions (see our proposed manifesto).

  • Firstly, it’s not at all obvious why family breakdown needs to be as endemic as it is. The Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy have half the level of family breakdown that we do.
  • Secondly, our own research – released only last week – reveals for the first time that the majority of couples who are not married when they have children will separate, even if they go on to marry later. Regardless of age and education, the couples that stay together while their bring up their children are invariably married before they have children.

Getting married before you have children isn’t some throwback to the Edwardian era. It’s going with the grain of human nature. As human beings, we are far better at sticking to plans … when we have a plan in the first place.

We need a clear public health policy that encourages and incentivises formal commitment before having children

I hope politicians are listening.

47 Euro lone parents 2010-2013

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5 thoughts on “European champions again …

  1. This only tells half the story. The gov has announced it is to overhaul and boost funding to children’s mental health services.
    *28% of pre-school children face problems that have an impact on their psychological development
    *One in 10 five-to-16-year-olds has a mental disorder
    *One in six young adults aged 16-24 has a common mental disorder
    *About 500,000 children and young people say they are unhappy and dissatisfied with their lives
    *75% of adult mental health problems are present before age of 18.

    How can the liberals defend alternative family arrangements are just as good as the traditional family, when the outcomes are not the same?
    The stats are too fragmented. The Gov must be forced to measure marital status for data such as children’s/adult MH, and all Domestic Abuse. At the moment they don’t, and I do not think they would be inclined to. Because if they did, it would be obvious that marriage ensures children and adults fair better in life, with lower risk of MH or DA.
    Instead they pour money ar symptoms, and bury their head in the sand when it comes to identifying the causes of DA or MH. Family breakdown.

    Care Minister, “I want to change the way we think about mental health care so that any child, whether they have a mental illness or simply need support through a difficult time, can get the right help at the right time,”

    How about creating an expectation that children can grow up, within a secure positive environment, through which they are supported, loved, cared for and valued, by people that know them, regardless of their ability or social standing? Perhaps we could suggest the mother and father of the child do this,.. and we could call it marriage!

  2. There is a danger when one looks at these statistics to put the cart before the horse! Marriage may be an outward sign of life long intention and ‘life long Intention’ may be the crux of successful parenting. Incentivising folk to marry will not increase life long intention. There is a danger of demonising single parents who may be excellent parents and co-operate in a very sophisticated and innovative ways with their other parent to provide an alternate pattern of parenting that may even be more valid at this time. What you really need to measure and promote is ‘putting the child first’.

    • Thank you Diana. You make two points; about marriage not increasing life long intention; and about demonising single parents.
      First, marriage undoubtedly does represent and crystallise lifelong intention. “Darling, will you spend the rest of your life with me?” is, for most people, sufficient to remove any residual ambiguity about the relationship. This is the ultimate step of ‘dedication’ to one another, the internal commitment that a couple makes, which boils down to three things: decision, couple, future. Couples split up when ‘constraints’, the external commitments on a couple that make it hard to leave, exceed ‘dedication’. Many researchers think that the decision itself is a key reason why marital behaviour then changes. Without that decision, there is assumption at best and ambiguity or uncertainty at worst. I often hear people dismiss the idea that marriage leads to relative stability because “correlation doesn’t mean causation”. But nor does it rule it out. Nobel prize winning researchers like Daniel Kahnemann have written endlessly about the effect of making decisions. So why should this apply to anything except marriage? In other words, I think it’s more than plausible that if more people went through the process of getting married, there would be a great deal more clarification of plans for the future and a great deal less ambiguity, which would quite likely increase stability. My latest research reveals how the trend away from marriage has increased the level of family breakdown. Why on earth should the reverse not also be the case? More marriages, more intention.
      Second, lone parents do a heroic job. I have said this many times and will continue to do so. At a personal level, I have no idea how friends of ours cope with children on their own. They need and deserve our love and support. I never forget how fortunate I am to be married to a lovely lady who puts up with me. From our children’s point of view, they have two parents with two pairs of hands. i am also well aware that we are only still married by the skin of my teeth – and I have told my story variously on this blog and our website. So, not for one second do I judge or condemn or demonise parents who couldn’t make it work as a couple and who now struggle along on their own. Quite the reverse. I praise and support them because they are where they are,
      But I do what i do and talk about the things I talk about precisely because I ‘put the child first’.
      – Putting the child first means encouraging couples to make clear plans for the future so that their commitment is based on clarity and intent and not assumptions and ambiguity. Marriage is the best way to do that, even if not the only way. We have forgotten this as a society. The result is that 45% of our teens pay the price of not living with both natural parents.
      – Putting the child first means getting good data out. For example, I only know for sure that marriage is by far the most stable form of relationship because this is what the big national surveys reveal. If others haven’t done the research, then we do it ourselves. If parents know what works, they can make better choices for themselves and for their children
      – Putting the child first means dispelling myths. For example, one of the most pernicious myths is the idea of the ‘good divorce’. There is excellent research that shows not only do children tend to do worst after low-conflict relationships end (because they don’t see it coming) but that cooperative coparenting post-divorce has far fewer compensations for the children than adults frequently claim. This is the kind of information that needs to be known and discussed and debated. Here, if parents know what doesn’t work, they can also make better choices.
      I could go on. Suffice to say that the purpose of reporting and discussing stories, such as in this blog, is to raise awareness that we have a massive problem. Most lone parents themselves say that theirs is not their ideal lifestyle choice. It’s in everybody’s interest that we increase the stock of family stability,
      We won’t make a better future if we don’t talk about what’s going on.

      • Thank you for taking the trouble to answer my comments — I take no issue with what you say — I personally believe in marriage for myself. I am particularly interested in your comments on dispelling myths — I shall follow your blog with interest!

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