In the first research of its kind in NZ, a new report estimates that the fiscal cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates is at least $1 billion per year and has cost approximately $8 billion over the past decade.
The report “The Value of Family – Fiscal Benefits of Marriage and Reducing Family Breakdown in New Zealand” was commissioned by Family First NZ and prepared by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER).
“The study shows that the decline of marriage, NZ’s high teenage fertility rate, and our rate of solo parenthood is not just a moral or social concern but should also be a concern of government and policymakers,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ. “The report states that even a small reduction in family breakdown and increases in marriage rates could provide significant savings for taxpayers.”
“While measuring the costs of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates raises challenges, overlooking these costs would mean that we would have little chance of understanding some of the most important issues facing New Zealand’s most vulnerable families,” says Dr Patrick Nolan, the author of the report and senior economist at the NZIER.
“The focus has been on ‘child poverty’ but this misses the real issue – that is, poverty amongst families with children,” says Mr McCoskrie, “and the way that divorce, unwed childbearing, teenage pregnancy and sole parenting contributes to that poverty. For example, sole parents have the lowest average living standards of all economic family unit types.”
The report also refers to International research which suggests that the private costs of divorce and unmarried childbearing include increased risks of poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, sexual abuse and other forms of family violence, economic hardship, substance abuse, and educational failure.
“It is significant that this report comes during an Election period where the issue of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates is barely registering a mention or a policy. Yet this report makes it quite clear that strengthening marriage and reducing family breakdown is a significant public concern, both in human costs and economically,” says Mr McCoskrie.
The report suggests the use of a range of programmes and services to reduce unwed pregnancy among teen mothers and to help prepare couples for and support them during marriage.
“We must do much more to strengthen marriages and help families succeed,” says Mr McCoskrie. “The investment will pay for itself.”
The Full Report can be downloaded from www.familyfirst.org.nz