Families Under Pressure

Disturbing Trends in Latest Statistics

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By Father John Flynn, L.C.



ROME, JULY 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Marriage and family life continue to suffer the inroads of contemporary society. From England came the recent news that the number of women giving birth outside of marriage rose by 22% in the last 5 years.

According to a June 29 report published by the Daily Mail newspaper, in 2006 a total of 327,000 children were born out of wedlock, 59,000 more than in 2001. In terms of a proportion of overall births, in 2006 no less than 43.7% of babies had unmarried mothers.

The Daily Mail quoted Patricia Morgan, author of a number of studies on the family, who accused the British tax system favoring single parenthood. "Two out of three of the babies outside marriage will have been born to couples with one eye on the benefit authorities," she told the newspaper.

Her remarks were confirmed by a former Labour Party minister for welfare reform, Frank Field. He argued that the tax and benefits system "brutally discriminate," against two-parent families, reported the Times newspaper, June 14.

Currently a single mother working 16 hours a week, after tax credits, gains a total income of 487 pounds a week, explained Field. By contrast, a two-parent family earning the minimum wage has to work 116 hours to gain the same income, as the tax credits system does not make allowance for the second adult.

The negative effects on families of such a system was confirmed by data published earlier this year by the British Office for National Statistics (ONS). According to an April 11 report by the Independent newspaper 24% of children in Great Britain lived with just one parent in 2006. This compares with 22% in 2001.

These children are more likely to live in rented housing and in "non-decent" homes, according to the ONS.

The report by the ONS also found that since 1971 the proportion of all people living in traditional family households of couples with dependent children has fallen from 52% to 37% of the population. In addition, the proportion of people living in couples with no children rose from 19% to 25%.

Lower marriage rates

Data on the numbers of marriages had family groups warning that the institution was under serious threats, reported the Telegraph newspaper, Feb. 22. Figures from the ONS for 2005 revealed that the number of people choosing to marry fell in 2005 by 10%, leading to the lowest marriage rates since they were first calculated in 1862. There were 244,710 marriages in England and Wales in 2005, down from 273,070 in 2004.

Families in Ireland are also declining, according to statistics recently published by the Central Statistics Office. Information released from the 2006 census showed that the traditional family unit has declined in all of the nation's main cities since 2002, reported the Irish Times on June 1.

Moreover, unmarried cohabiting couples are the fastest growing type of family unit in Ireland. In 2002, the total number of cohabiting couples was 77,600. By 2006 this rose to 121,000, an increase from 8.4% of all family units in 2002 to 11.6% by last year. Lone parents, the vast majority of them women, accounted for 152,542 Irish households.

Commenting on the figures for the Iona Institute, John P. Byrne, author of a recent paper on tax and the family, said that the current tax regime penalizes single income married couples to the tune of up to €6,240 per annum.

"As a society, we need to examine how to make the economy more family-friendly," he added in the June 28 press statement released by the institute.

Meanwhile, data published by Italy's Central Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), revealed that from 1995 to 2005 the number of divorces sharply increased. According to a report by the Repubblica newspaper June 26, over the 10-year period divorces grew by 74%, reaching 47,036 in 2005.

The number of separations increased by 57.3% in the 10-year period, reaching 82,291 in 2005. Under Italian law separation is the preliminary stage in being able to obtain a divorce, although not all couples that register their separation then go on to divorce.

One of the few bits of comforting information on the family came from the United States, where the divorce rate is continuing to decline, reported the Associated Press on May 10. The divorce rate peaked at 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people in 1981. It has continued to drop and is now at 3.6 per thousand, the lowest rate since 1970.

Divorce data

Nevertheless, an analysis in the May 21 edition of the Wall Street Journal of the report published by the Associated Press showed that interpreting the data is not that simple. For a start the statistics deal with divorces as a proportion of the total population, but don't reveal what percentage of marriages end in divorce.

In addition, while divorces have declined, so too has the marriage rate per 1,000 people, by some 30% in the past 25 years. Therefore, with more couples cohabitating a part of the decline in divorce could be due to people living together so that the eventual separations are not counted as divorces. The matter is complicated by the fact that a decade ago the government stopped collecting more detailed statistics on marriage and divorce that would allow a clearer analysis of the situation.

Further data on divorce came from Canada, in the May edition of "Health Reports," published by the government body, Statistics Canada. The agency calculated that in Canada, an estimated 4 marriages in 10 will end before the couple celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. The most recent data available from the Divorce Registry is for the year 2003. It showed that nearly 71,000 married couples divorced in 2003.

The report then went on to detail some of the deleterious effects of divorce. Detailed studies from the United States and Europe suggest that, compared with people who remain together, those who see their marriage breakup are at increased risk of mental health problems, in particular depression.

Financial difficulties often follow marital dissolution, added the report. This is especially the case for women, who according to data from a 10-year study from 1994/1995 to 2004/2005 in Canada, are nearly three times as likely as their men to experience a major decline in household income following divorce.

The Canada study also confirmed the overseas experience that shows a link between divorce and depression. This association is present even when other events that often accompany a break-up, such as a drop in income and a decline in social support are taken into account. The study showed that it was men who were more at risk of experiencing depression following divorce than were women.

Hearth of life

Family life continues to be a frequent theme in Benedict XVI's speeches. "The family was and is the school of faith, the training-ground for human and civil values, the hearth in which human life is born and is generously and responsibly welcomed," he noted in his May 13 speech opening the 5th General Conference of the Episcopate of Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Pope also observed that the family is suffering adversity due to the forces of secularism, ethical relativism, poverty and legislation weakening marriage. It is indispensable, he urged, for the Church to engage in vigorous pastoral care of families.

Moreover, the Pontiff continued, it is indispensable to promote family life through adequate public policies. "The family," he said, "constitutes part of the good of peoples and of the whole of humanity."