17/08/2011 11:52 BST | Updated 22/05/2015 06:12 BST

Unmarried Parents? Who Cares


In a recent survey a research economist at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) said: "It is true that children born to married couples are on average more cognitively and emotionally successful than children born to cohabiting couples.

"But careful analysis shows that this largely reflects the differences between the types of people who decide to get married and those who don't."


I may not be a research economist but I am a mum in the school yard who takes offence to this.


While the overarching survey points out that marriage confers "little if any benefit" in terms of a child's development, I think that the belief that a certain "type" is drawn to a cohabiting relationship is offensive.

I have met parents who are cohabiting and parents who are not and the mix of temperament and type is very mixed. Some of these cohabiting humans, who, apparently, should fit a type that will result in their child being developmentally affected, are doctors, journalists, teachers and lawyers. And it is perfectly clear that the researcher was not referring to these "types" in her quote. A quote that came across as more than a little snobbish.

Interestingly the British Household Panel Survey data for the 1950-62 cohort shows an increased likelihood of cohabitation with an increase in the father's social status. Ermisch and Francesconi actually suggest that the "upper-middle class were pioneers in cohabitation".

The same study points out that it is likely that if young women from lower socio-economic groups become pregnant "they are also more likely to cohabit than marry" which just serves to highlight that, like marriage, cohabitation is a personal choice and not an indication of your "type".

My husband and I cohabited for the first three years of my daughter's life. There weren't any deep and meaningful thoughts behind this state of affairs, we were simply happy with the way things were and didn't see any reason to change things.

We did get married, though, and only because I had a hankering for a nice party and to get that 12-year old dream of a white frock off my life's To Do list.

While I haven't taken a stopwatch to the time I devote to my child's reading, writing and mathematics, I don't feel I have suddenly turned "helicopter parent" because the ring is on my finger. I was just as paranoid about her emotional and mental well being when I cohabited as I am now.

Rhian Drinkwater, mum to Harry aged two says, "I recently read something that pointed out plenty of people delay marriage until after they have kids because they are both expensive but a wedding can wait whereas biology often can't."

"I am married but many of my parent friends are not, they are loving people who always do what's best for their kids and I don't think that whether or not you have a ring on your finger has anything to do with how you raise your kids."

Kerry, mum to two teens, agrees, "I have been with my partner for 15 years and neither of us are particularly bothered with getting married. Our relationship doesn't feel any less secure than those of our married friends and our children are both very successful academically. I think that the old attitudes towards cohabitation are dated and judgemental!"

The National Centre for Social Research British Social Attitudes did a recent study that demonstrated how "cohabiting unmarried parenting is increasingly seen as acceptable". The results did point out that there are still many people who felt that giving cohabitants similar legal rights as the married would undermine the institution and make people less likely to wed but I ask you – who cares? Surely a piece of paper and a ring are not the issue here?


What is important is how a child is raised and treated. If parents treat their children with love, respect and understanding, and give them the support they need to succeed in life, then it doesn't matter if they are married or cohabiting.


What matters is that they are raising a happy and healthy child. A ceremony and a some legislation are not going to have any effect on whether or not they do that. At all.

So yes, I think that slapping a label onto someone because they cohabit is appalling. Telling someone that their cohabitation status means they are likely to be impacting on the development of their child is even worse.

Isn't it time to shed outdated notions about marriage and to rather focus on how people parent instead?

What do you think? Let us know...