Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Relationships: prejudice and evidence

With all this leadership hoo-hah going on, a couple of government policy reviews have just been published to precious little attention. One’s on the role of the state (about which I may write once I’ve had a look) and one’s on the family.

Some excerpts from the latter (all italics mine):

“couples who are living together without being married are still more likely to break up than married couples. For example, among parents of children under three, when comparing couples of an equivalent age, income, education level, ethnic group and benefit status, an unmarried couple that is living together is around twice as likely as a married couple to break up. This may reflect, simply, that married couples may, on average, be more committed to one another.”

The controls and the final caveat are welcome, painting a far less simplistic picture of the causal power of rings on fingers than certain people have done. The review goes on:

“children generally benefit from being raised within a stable, two-parent family rather than a single-parent family.
“But this does not necessarily mean that the family type causes these outcomes. Rather it is the combination of factors [prosperity, education and strength of parental relationships]… that result in better or worse outcomes for children. This is illustrated by evidence that growing up in a lone-parent family as a result of bereavement or of donor insemination is not associated with the same negative outcomes as growing up in a lone-parent family resulting from divorce. Similarly, inter-parental anger and conflict are strong predictors of, and risk factors for, child maladjustment regardless of whether a child is living in a family that is intact, divorced or a step-family.”

Type of family structure is a poor proxy for quality of family relationships. Yes, good adult role models are essential – but bad ones are damaging, and they won’t be made good by getting them to stick around.

“the Government cannot create [relationship] commitment… where it does not already exist. … Similarly, policies that aim to provide incentives for couples to stay together when relationships have broken down do not help to reduce parental conflict, and may therefore not be in the best interest of children’s well-being or benefit those within the relationship. The Government should therefore not act to incentivise specific forms of relationship. …
“The children of less committed fathers seem to suffer more deprivation and show more behavioural problems than those whose fathers are more committed – the key factor is whether fathers are actively involved in their children’s upbringing. This applies to both one- and two-parent families.

In the light of all this (there are plenty of footnotes citing research papers), there really is no honest reason for saying that children’s lives must be improved – particuarly those in poverty – and yet focusing overwhelmingly on the crude, facile, ineffective promotion of marriage.


Alex said...

FYI, I FINALLY got around to responding to your last comment. Sorry that took me so long! I also dedicated a new post to our latest go round. Feel free to delete this comment. It's just a heads up. I would have just emailed it to you but I don't have your addy!


Tom Freeman said...

I spotted! Not read it properly yet but I'll get onto it soon.