The consequences of family instability are alarming; while 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. 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.
The benefits conferred by marriage should be shared equally.