More than 25 percent of the world’s population is expected to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton this Friday in London. It’s interesting to me that the wedding fever is so hot given the declining marriage rates and rising cohabitation rates in Britain and in much of the developed world.
What is it about this particular love and marriage and a lifelong commitment that so capture our attention? Is it merely the pomp and circumstance of the Royal Wedding? I’m sure some will tune in just for the fashion or the grand event details, but deep down I think most viewers wish the young couple well and genuinely hope for their lasting happiness. The commoner-turned-princess tale is a romantic one spelled out in fairytales that we have read since we were children.
Given the focus on Britain this week, I wanted to share a glimpse of the state of families there and share some relevant reports on marriage.
According to the British newspaper, The Telegraph, marriage rates in England and Wales have fallen to an all-time low, and 46 percent of children there are born to unmarried parents. Children born today in England have a 50 percent chance of reaching age 16 in an intact household. The reason so many families are said to be breaking up is the dramatic increases in cohabitation there. Cohabiting relationships tend to be much more fragile than marriage relationships. Jill Kirby for The Telegraph writes that family breakdown in England “harms a child’s prospects, making it more likely that they will fail at school, start using drugs and struggle to get jobs.” Research on children of divorce in the U.S. finds children struggle with these same issues and more.
How widespread is cohabitation in England? A new survey shows 92 percent of Brits live together before marriage—eHarmony’s UK division recently polled 505 married adults of 25 years or more and 530 newlyweds. This report by the Press Association also says 25 years ago, only 10 percent of married couples in England shared a home before marrying, so the rate of change is dramatic. Many British couples report raising children together before marrying; 38 percent of the surveyed British newlyweds said they were already raising a child before the wedding. Even among the couples who went on to wed, half of the newlyweds reported they had spent some time “on a break” from their partner before they went on to wed. (It sounds like they have something in common with William and Kate.)Regarding the duration of time spent living together before marriage, one-third spent one to two years cohabiting.
It would be great if children could benefit from the same level of family commitment whether their parents were married or living together, but research in the U.S. and Britain shows this is clearly not the case. Men and women often have different perspectives about why they are moving in together. I’ve read that more men are using the time as a trial basis to determine if there is a future for the relationship, while more women view the period as a step toward marriage. So, one person is basically asking “if” and the other is asking “when,” so it’s not that surprising that many of these relationships do not continue at all. There are much lower rates of breakup for couples who move in together after they are engaged but before they are married. They have both already decided they are committed, and seems to make a difference.
Luckily for Kate and William, it appears they have spent a good deal of time evaluating their relationship and the challenges that living in the public eye will bring before concluding that they wish to be married. They represent a hopeful love story for their nation. They also represent what some hope will be a change toward embracing marriage in a country that has increasingly dismissed it even for families with children. Improving family stability would certainly be part of a great “happily ever after” story.