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Marriage vital for children’s life chances

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Children whose parents are married have higher self-esteem, greater acceptance and increased life chances, a think-tank study has concluded.

In the first ever UK report on the influence of family status on self-esteem, the Marriage Foundation found that children of married couples have higher self-esteem than their counterparts from other types of family.

Data of 3,822 children aged 11 to 16 was gathered from the regular British Household Panel Survey. Harry Benson, the Marriage Foundation’s Research Director, and Spencer James, Assistant Professor of Brigham Young University in the US, analysed the data, comparing those living with married parents, continuously cohabiting parents and lone parents.

The analysis revealed that while boys scored more highly than girls overall, both genders performed significantly better in married families, compared to their counterparts whose parents were cohabiting or lone parents.

Boys with married parents typically scored 57% for self-esteem, significantly higher than the 51% average for those in cohabiting families; whereas girls scored 43% and 38% respectively. 

'Marriage matters'

Mr Benson commented: "We know from previous research that self-esteem is related to closeness and security in relationships. In this study, we can see that children are responding to how their parents relate to each other."

Sir Paul Coleridge, a former family judge and founder of the Marriage Foundation commented: "Marriage matters because it is the most important predicator of a child’s future life chances.

"Not only is a married couple six times more likely to save their child from undergoing the trauma of family breakdown, we now have evidence that parents’ public declaration of commitment to each other significantly alters a child’s self-perception and self-esteem."

'Strong families critical'

He continued:

"Earlier this year, the Prime Minister laid out what he called his 'life chances agenda.' He said strong families were critical in giving children the best possible opportunity of a happy and healthy life.

"Sadly, he ducked the chance to say that marriage is the surest way of protecting a couple’s relationship despite the fact evidence shows that 92 per cent of parents who are still together by their children’s fifteenth birthday are married.

"It is not being moralistic or judgemental to say marriage works best for families. It is a statement of fact. The trend away from marriage beginning in the 1980s has coincided with a meteoric rise in family breakdown. Unless the Government gets serious about tackling this epidemic now, more and more children will see their lives torn apart."

The cost of family breakdown

Previous research by the Marriage Foundation has highlighted that "by the age of 16, a child born today has only a 50 / 50 chance of living with both parents."

A separate organisation, the Cambridge-based Relationships Foundation, last year estimated the annual cost of family breakdown to be £46bn – more than the entire defence budget.

And the Centre for Social Justice, found a teenager sitting their GCSEs is more likely to "own a smartphone than live with their father".

Related Links: 
Tie the knot to boost children’s mental health, couples told (Marriage Foundation) 
Family breakdown damages exam results  
Parents’ marital status ‘boosts children’s self-esteem’ (Telegraph)