The new British Millennium Cohort Study of babies born in 2000-01 compares how the parents' relationships fared in the stressful first five years after the birth. The result:
Married couples divorcing: 6%
Cohabiting couples breaking up: 32%
"Closely involved" fathers disappearing: 74%
It will come as no surprise to Gruntled Center readers that marriage works better in holding families together than does hanging out together and hoping for the best. Even I was surprised, though, at the magnitude of the difference that appears already in the first few years of the young family's life.
The other half of this story, though, is that some leaders of the Conservative Party are touting the study to push for a pro-marriage campaign. Critics, both within and outside the party, are afraid that a pro-marriage position will make unmarried parents feel bad and not vote Tory.
I don't usually find myself praising Tory leaders. In this case, though, I think Iain Duncan Smith, the former head of the party who is pushing the current leaders to take a more pro-marriage stand, is right. Marriage is better for children than cohabitation is, and miles better than "closely involved until the going gets hairy" fatherhood. Promoting marriage for parents is the right thing to do regardless of whether it wins votes or not.
I think that promoting marriage to unmarried parents is also politically savvy. Yes, some people will get their backs up and vote against you. But most parents are more concerned about what is good for their children than anything else. Parents will gravitate to parties that tell the truth about what really helps children. As our own politics shows, the party that talks pro-marriage and pro-family will keep winning elections – even if they don't actually do much to help families or promote marriage.
Pro-marriage is good politics. It also has the advantage of being true.