Falling marriage rates hurting children: report

The Age (Aust) September 6, 2011

THE well-being of Australia’s children and young adults has declined sharply in the past decade – and sliding marriage rates are partly to blame, a study has found. Spiralling rates of child abuse and neglect, of children being placed in foster care and of teenage mental health problems – including a dramatic rise in hospitalisation for self-harm – are rooted in the rise of one-parent families and de facto couples, violent or unstable relationships and divorce, the report says. Its author, Patrick Parkinson, a Sydney University law professor, has called for a review of government family policy. ”Governments in Australia cannot continue to ignore the reality that two parents tend to provide better outcomes for children than one, and that the most stable, safe and nurturing environment for children is when their parents are, and remain, married to one another,” the report says.

….The report says myriad explanations could be offered for deteriorating well-being, including child sexual abuse and family violence. But the major demographic change that provides the big-picture explanation is the rise in the number of children who by age 15 have spent some time not living with their two biological parents. About 25 per cent of children born between 1981-85 had either been born to a single mother or experienced parental separation by the age of 15, nearly three times the rate of the post-war baby boomers, the study reports. The report pinpoints the decline in the marriage rate since 1989 from seven per 1000 population to 5.5 – and the rise in children born to couples living in de facto relationships – as fundamental to the fraying social environment. It argues that marriage makes a difference, not just the characteristics of a child’s parents, because of the commitment involved.