Monday, October 20, 2008

New report: family breakdown costs each taxpayer $300 every year

.......breaking news.......

Update Report is here Media article is here Loose morals cost NZ$1b a year. Loose morals?????

A report to be released later today estimates the fiscal cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates is at least $1 billion per year, or $300 per taxpayer. It's actually a pretty good report with a lot of data which I may blog later, but its promotion of marriage is not that convincing.

The Value of Family – Fiscal Benefits of Marriage and Reducing Family Breakdown in New Zealand [online here later today] was commissioned by Family First, and suggests that the private costs of divorce and unmarried childbearing include a range of things from increased risks of poverty and juvenile delinquency to family violence and educational failure.

Although the report does provide a fiscal and social cost of family breakdown, it does not quantify the fiscal benefits of marriage, despite its title, as they are lumped in with - and are no doubt pretty much equal to - the benefits of cohabiting couples - and more than 40 percent of couples aged under 44 are unmarried. But the report discusses decreasing marriage rates,implying that there is a social and economic cost because proportionally fewer people are getting married. But marriage rates are decreasing not just because of cohabitation, they are also decreasing because the parents of a third of this country's children have no partner. And it is the sole parents in poverty and on benefits who are disproportionately adding to these fiscal costs.

The report notes that social policy should promote two parent families, particularly marriage, because they fare better than sole parent families. Given that most children live in two parent families, and of these families, most are married, I would have thought quantification of the fiscal benefits of marriage would be more important and come prior to mentioning decreasing marriage rates. But does it matter whether kids' parents are married? Actually, I would have thought a bigger deal is whether kids are brought up with one parent or two.

What is clear from this report is that marriage is not as significant a variable as whether a household has one or two parents. But if we want to analyse and reduce family breakdown, whether the parents are married is irrelevant if they are living together. Lets look at the number of cohabiters who are splitting up, not just the divorce or decreasing marriage rates. Lets look at poverty. Also, the report's public policy recommendation of marriage guidance should be extended to relationship guidance to promote the durability of all two parent families, not just to those who are about to get a marriage certificate.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the key issue is whether there are one or two parents. But married couples are far less likely to break up than unmarried couples. This is why it is important to promote marriage rather than de-facto parenthood to combat family breakdown.

October 20, 2008 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Swimming said...

If you had some evidence that married couples with children - and its parenthood you are discussing - are FAR (not just a little bit)less likely to break up, I'd agree. But the report, if you`d read it, does not back up your assertion, in fact it tends to negate it. Therefore promoting marriage over defacto parenting will not be more successful in combatting family breakdown.

October 20, 2008 at 11:47 AM  
Blogger Anna said...

Surely it's the strength of the relationship that affects the likelihood of a breakup, not whether it's a marriage or de facto relationship. It's possible that people more likely to go the distance are more likely to choose marriage. However, it doesn't follow that if you took all the de facto couples and forced them to marry, their success rate would increase.

October 20, 2008 at 1:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"it doesn't follow that if you took all the de facto couples and forced them to marry, their success rate would increase."

No, but marriage is a formal commitment to each other which most people take very seriously. Traditionally people waited until marriage before having children. This means you make sure you have found someone you can commit to before having children, and are therefore more likely to stick together.

Some defacto couples are just as serious (and will say "we don't need a piece of paper to prove our love" and such statements). But there are also many defacto couples who start living together without putting anywhere near as much thought into it as they would put into getting married - as evidenced by the number of couples living together who don't feel they are "ready for marriage yet". This means that on average defacto couples are less likely to have put as much thought into whether they are willing to stick together or not - that is an average of course, not a statement about every defacto relationship.

This is pretty logical and is supported by research.

October 20, 2008 at 2:36 PM  
Blogger Stephanie said...

but marriage is a formal commitment to each other which most people take very seriously.

Hmmm and here was me thinking it was an excuse for a ridiculous overblown party where brides-to-be angst more over their dress and table linens than their actual vows. Yup that is taking that whole commitment thing really seriously.

October 20, 2008 at 3:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is pretty logical and is supported by research.
I`ll blog on that later, but no its not supported by decent research.Your research fails to account for social factors such as lower income, less stable housing, and less support for single parents and their children -- these are the causes of poor educational outcome, - and increased stress in families - not the parent's marital status.
Perhaps you should start reading the research, not media reports on the research.

October 20, 2008 at 3:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

ps that was me, Dave

October 20, 2008 at 3:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ex-expat: Marriage should be about the marriage, not about the wedding. If it's all about having a party, I fully agree that they've got their priorities completely wrong.

Dave: Let me express it another way. According to the Family First report, the average length of marriage is around 13 years. How many defacto relationships do you know of that have lasted over 13 years (no doubt you can think of a few, I can think of one). How many defacto relationships do you know of that lasted less than 13 years (I quickly run out of fingers to count those). In my own experience therefore, I feel it is pretty obvious that the average length of a defacto relationship is much shorter than the average marriage, and I would be surprised if you came to any other conclusion.

October 20, 2008 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Swimming said...

Of course many defacto relationships are shorter - they get married. So the comparison is a mute point. I know a gay couplw who have been together for well over 19 years, a straight couple for 20 and another couple who have been together for 13 years, five of them married. And I know someone else who got married last year - without living with his partner beforehand - and jhas already split up

So your point is??

October 20, 2008 at 4:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am talking about how long they last before breaking up. And sadly, many don't last very long, often only 6 months - 2 years. Of course, some marriages only last that long too. But on average, defacto relationships are likely to start more spontaneously, with less thought going into them than a marriage, and therefore on average last for less time.

October 21, 2008 at 9:11 AM  
Blogger Swimming said...

in terms of that last sentence, with reference to relationships with kids, have you got any evidence of that? Or at least a reasoned argument. Because that's how we work, here.

October 21, 2008 at 9:20 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reasoned argument:
It doesn't take much organising to just move in together, compared to getting married first, which involves organising a wedding and all related fuss. So moving in together is likely to be more spontaneous than getting married.

Many couples who choose to live together don't consider themselves "ready for marriage yet" - so they obviously feel marriage is a bigger commitment than just living together. Often this is because they aren't sure they have "found the right person yet" - in other words, they think they may decide to break up.

On the other hand, they feel marriage is a bigger commitment and want to put more thought into this before committing to it.

Therefore a defacto couple is less likely (on average, not making a statement about all defacto couples) to be intending to stay together for life than a married couple.

A couple that has thought it through and made a commitment to each other to stick together for life is more likely to follow through with this commitment, providing a stable home for children, than a couple who never made that commitment in the first place.

When disputes arise between a couple who are not sure they have "found the right person" yet they may decide that this dispute must mean they are not the right person, and they may choose to break up over it. However if they have already considered carefully whether that person is right and been prepared to put it in writing (marriage), they are more likely to feel an obligation to follow through on this commitment and work through the dispute.

Throughout this analysis I am talking on average, not making a statement about any individual relationship. But it is clear to me that the more thought goes into a relationship before you have children, the less likely you are to break up when you have children.

October 21, 2008 at 9:59 AM  

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