Brexit could drive a resurgence in marriage rates and a return to a society built on the sturdy foundation of nuclear families, a former High Court Judge has predicted.
Writing for The Telegraph, Sir Paul Coleridge, Chairman of the Marriage Foundation, has pointed out that the collapse of the nuclear family as the bedrock of society in Britain coincided with Britain’s membership of the European Economic Community (EEC), which over the decades morphed into membership of the European Union (EU).
He argues that the two are linked, as membership of the European bodies brought with it greater reliance on the state, particularly for poorer people, undermining the role of families in providing for children.
“This ‘State will provide’ attitude infected our national domestic life too,” Coleridge writes. “The generous welfare system did nothing to discourage family breakdown and it became economically possible for a woman to support children without financial support from herself or a husband. More and more items of our household expenditure were picked up by the State. Notions of individual family self-reliance faded.”
In the early 1970s, when Britain joined the EEC, the marriage rate among new parents was around 90 per cent across all sectors of society, and there were approximately 650,000 single parents (almost all women), Coleridge says.
By the time of the referendum on British membership of the EU last year, society was showing a deep divide. Among the richest quintile of parents of children under five the marriage rate was just below 90 per cent, showing almost no change over the decades. But among the poorest, the marriage rate had dropped to just 24 per cent and single parents numbered two million.
Cohabitation has also soared, from being almost unheard of in the 1970s to becoming commonplace. Just under 50 per cent of all children in Britain are now born to single or cohabiting parents. Studies show that cohabiting parents are almost certain to split before their children reach their mid-teens, unlike married parents, leading to – mostly poorer – children growing up without fathers.
The public cost of family breakdown is now estimated at £50 billion a year.
However, with the advent of Brexit, Coleridge suggests that a reverse trend may also prove in time to be possible – that less reliance on the state could fuel a resurgence in marriage rates.
“Of course, no one could sensibly suggest that Brexit is a magic bullet for the restoration of the stable married family,” he writes. “But as our country retakes control of its destiny in vital areas of national life, I believe self-reliance will re-emerge as a valued part of our national life. As this progresses the default position of the individual will be less to the State and more to the family and community.
“The wider opportunities and horizons that can flow from a successful Brexit, one where we re-establish ourselves as a strong and distinctive player in the world, will inspire a resurgence of national and individual self-confidence which will flow back into family life. And an increase in the rate of the serious commitment of marriage and a reduction in family breakdown will naturally evolve from that.”