Sunday Tasmanian

26 May 2002, Page 11

Nowadays the vow is not to tie the knot

By Gerard McManus
Sunday Tasmanian

Australian men are avoiding marriage because of the financial ruin marital break-ups bring.

New figures show that a quarter of all women will never be proposed to as men opt for no-strings-attached casual relationships.

Today 29 per cent of men are likely never to marry and the trend is rising.

And recent Family Court rulings which force men to pay for child support for children that are not their own have only reinforced widespread perceptions of anti-male bias by the court.

There are now more than two million Australian men and women in the lonely hearts club - those 45 years and under who have never married. On current trends the club is likely to double over the next 15 years.

Men are opting for relationships where there is no commitment, no offspring and most of all no danger of long-term financial loss from divorce.

And statistics also show that if a woman wants to marry the worst thing she can do is get a university degree, which pushes out the marriage age and lengthens the odds of never marrying.

University degrees produce the most old maids (almost twice as many women with university degrees are not married at 45 compared with women with no qualifications at all).

Women with diplomas fare almost as badly, ahead of women with basic certificates and those with no qualifications at all.

Women with trade certificates appear to have the best prospects of getting married. Just 5 per cent of tradeswomen aged 45 are not married.

"I think it is wonderful that men are starting to wake up," family law reform campaigner Sylvia Smith said last week. "Why would a young man with a lucrative career risk losing 70 to 80 per cent of his assets by getting married?

"Property settlements are meant to be 50/50 but in the vast majority of cases the result is more like 80/20 towards women."

The Full Bench of the Family Court recently ruled that it had no power to force the Child Support Agency to refund $4290 in overpayments to a Victorian man who discovered by DNA tests that he was not the father of his wife's child.

In another case currently before the Family Court, also in Victoria, a man is seeking repayment of about $40,000 in child support payments after he also discovered that two of the three children he had been supporting for 8 1/2 years turned out through DNA testing not to be his.

The Child Support Agency insists it has no power to refund the money, and Children and Youth Affairs Minister Larry Anthony says he is seeking advice on the matter.

The Family Law Act of 1975 ushered in not only the era of no-fault divorce and high dissolution rates (currently running 46 per cent), but a corresponding trend of an increasing reluctance to marry.

Since 1975 there has been a five-fold growth in the number of men who have never married.

In 1975, 4 per cent or about one in 25 women had never married by the time they reached 45 years of age.

According to the 1996 Census (the 2001 Census figures are due to be released soon), more than one in four women had never married by the age of 45, and this figure is continuing to rise.

Between 1986 and 1996 there was a rise in the number of women living in de facto relationships from 7 per cent to 12 per cent in the 25- to 29-year age group.

However, the proportion of married women fell by 15 per cent so that the proportion of women in 1996 who were coupled in any type of live-in union fell from 67 per cent to 57 per cent.

The number of people getting married is also falling, despite the increasing population. In 2000 there was a decrease of 900 marriages compared with the previous year.

Men and women are also delaying getting married, with the average age of men getting married now 30, and women almost 28.

In 1971 an extraordinary 62 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 were married. By 1997 this figure had fallen to 13 per cent.