Marriage is a very public promise. You hear folk say it means nothing these days. People don't expect it to last. But on an individual basis, I am certain many do. De facto relationships have their place, especially for the young, but they aren't really about commitment (I generalise).
I am a big fan of the institution of marriage but stop short of saying the government should get involved in promoting it. It is government involvement in the private lives of people that has played a significant part in undermining marriage.
Crusader Rabbit drew my attention to this news out of the UK, a similar society to NZ. Only 3 percent of unmarried couples stayed together until their child was 16.
The only similar NZ information I have ever come across is;
According to Jan Pryor, director of the Roy McKenzie Centre for the Study of Families (and now Chief Families Commissioner) only about 12 to 13 percent of kids’ parents live together but aren’t married.
Mr and Mrs Average, Dominion Post, July 26, 2008
The divergence of percentages may be explained by a lack of age specification.
So why does any of this matter?
When starchy phrases like out-of-wedlock birth or illegitimacy rates or even unmarried parenthood are used, lots of folk get up in arms. They claim that the terms are irrelevant because many children are born to unmarried parents who are nevertheless in stable and committed relationships. This research turns that on its head.
NZ is approaching an unmarried birth percentage of 50. It isn't uncommon for parents to marry after the birth of their children but neither is it uncommon for them to split when the going gets tough. That is a sad development. It is an emotionally and financially costly business. And the costs are socialised.
Sure, married parents split up to, but less frequently. So marriage makes a difference.