Credit: Alexandr Baitelman /

Rugby star says ‘incentivise marriage’, as report shows cohabiting couples 4 times more likely to separate 

An English rugby star has called on the Government to incentivise marriage, as a new report shows cohabiting couples are four times more likely to separate, and that family instability is a leading cause for negative outcomes for children. 

Writing in The Telegraph England player Courtney Lawes said that in his view marriage provided stability to families, and compared the “total commitment of marriage’ to winning at rugby.  “You must be prepared to invest time and energy, you must sacrifice to play your best,” he wrote.

Lawes revealed that his half-brother who was not raised in the same stable environment as the rugby player, gor involved in drugs and criminality and ended up in prison. “I’m forced to ask the question of how his life might have been different if he had grown up in a stable home,” he posited.

He also noted that “this was not an exceptional story in our community: almost one in five Afro-Caribbean fathers do not raise their children”, before going on to ask: “How do we help counter this trend? Maybe the answer is marriage.”

Lawes married Jessica Devaney in 2015, and the couple have four children: Nelly, six, son Teddy, five, and two-year-old twins Otto and Hugo .

His article coincides with the publication of a report Family Structure Still Matters, published by the Centre for Social Justice  which found that cohabiting couples are four times more likely to split up, and describes marriage as becoming a “middle-class secret”.

Among high income couples 83% have tied the knot; among low-income parents (bottom quintile) only 55% are married, the author of the report, Cristina Odone, reveals.

She describes the “marriage gap” as a “social justice issue” and says “the benefits conferred by marriage should be shared equally”. “By the time they turn five, 53% of children of cohabiting parents will have experienced their parents’ separation; among five-year-olds with married parents, this is 15%,” she points out.

“These differences matter because family stability has been shown to profoundly affect children’s outcomes. Even when controlling for income and education, children raised in unstable families suffer worse health, are more likely to be excluded, more likely to join a gang and end up not in employment or education,” Ms Odone said the report showed.

She warned that the costs to society of increased family breakdown was huge: “The cost of this to the NHS, to the criminal justice system, and to the Treasury – in terms of lost revenues  – is huge. Less quantifiable but equally corrosive is the impact on society: the anti-social behaviour of even a tiny minority can erode trust and well-being among the majority.”

In contrast, she pointed out, “the benefits conferred by marriage are inspiring. It is therefore surprising that government consistently fails to distinguish between marriage and cohabitation. In its language around family structure, including, crucially in its data collection, government persists in blurring the two categories of “married” and “cohabiting”. Official silence on this issue has sent out the message that marriage and cohabitation are interchangeable. Yet we have seen how the two
structures lead to widely different outcomes.”

Ms Odone said that “by ignoring this distinction, the government risks robbing couples of making an informed choice about what kind of relationship they should embark on. It will be difficult to short-change middle-class young people, as their parents are more likely to be married, and this cohort will know first-hand the advantages of matrimony. But to short-change young people in low income households, who are not likely to have enjoyed the lived experience of family stability, will be easier –and unforgivable.”


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