Bergen County Record

Friday, December 10, 1999

Britain tops in partnerless moms

By DAVID BRINDLE
Guardian
Bergen County Record

LONDON -- Britain has the highest rate of women in western Europe who raise children without a live-in partner, a study has revealed.

The study of European birth trends also shows that couples who marry before having a child are consistently more likely to stay together than those who have a baby while cohabiting.

The findings will be seized on by campaigners for traditional family values, coming a week after the importance of marriage was played down at the launch of the government-funded National Family and Parenting Institute.

An opinion poll commissioned by the institute suggested that only one in five people considered marriage a very important factor in bringing up children. Home Secretary Jack Straw said the idea of a golden age of marriage had been exaggerated.

Latest official figures show that in 1998, 38 percent of births in England and Wales were outside marriage, compared with 26 percent 10 years earlier, although more than 60 percent were registered by both parents giving the same address.

The European study, carried out by population expert Kathleen Kiernan of the London School of Economics, found a similar trend in most countries, with women increasingly having children outside marriage. France is on the brink of joining Scandinavian states in having a majority of babies born outside marriage.

However, the research discovered that Britain is the only country where this trend has led to a "striking" increase in numbers of women having a child without a live-in partner as well as a rise in numbers having a child within a cohabiting union.

Among women ages 25 to 29, 15 percent of British women having a first child were found to be doing so without a partner. Equivalent proportions were 9 percent in France and 6 percent in Sweden. By contrast, 46 percent of first births to French women were to those cohabiting, as were 53 percent in Sweden, compared with 17 percent in Britain.

Kiernan found 92 percent of British couples who married before having a first child were together five years later.

However, only 48 percent of British couples who were cohabiting when they had a first child were still together five years later. This was rather lower than in most other countries.

The study, published in Population Trends, the quarterly journal of the British Office for National Statistics, comes as the number of marriages continues to fall and experts project the proportion of the adult British population that is married will fall below half for the first time in history in the middle of the next decade.

The number of marriages in England and Wales dropped to 273,000 in 1997, compared with 352,000 in 1987. But the number of divorces also is falling and the divorce rate, which is a more significant indicator, came down in 1998 to its lowest level since 1990.

Copyright © 1999 Bergen Record Corp.