Increase in marriage breakdown a disaster for children, says expert

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Ireland's escalating marriage breakdown rate is bad for adults, but catastrophic for children, according to Professor Patricia Casey. She was speaking at the first conference of the Iona Institute, a pro-marriage think tank.

The conference, entitled the Fragmenting Family, highlighted the extent of marriage breakdown in Ireland. The first paper, delivered by Professor Casey, illustrated that Ireland's rate of marital breakdown had increased by almost 500 per cent since 1986.

Such a rise, Professor Casey said, had its biggest impact on children.

In his introductory remarks, David Quinn, a well known columnist and social commentator, said that, while society ought not judge those in alternative family forms, it need not celebrate the move away from the two parent family model.

“More family diversity means more children not being raised with married parents,” Mr Quinn said. Given that social science data increasingly showed that marriage was the family form which resulted in the best outcomes for children, this was not something to be celebrated, he said.

The conference, chaired by Fine Gael MEP for Dublin Gay Mitchell, also looked at the impact of the growth of different family forms on both the institution of marriage and society. 

The second speaker, Anastasia de Waal, spoke about the dramatic increase in cohabitation in the UK. Pointing out that cohabitation was a complex phenomenon, Ms De Waal, a researcher at the UK think tank Civitas, said that most cohabiting couples were not stable. Out of the total number of such couples, those that remained committed to each other “more or less” indefinitely was very small, she added.

This meant that politicians should be slow to make laws to recognise such unions as though they were a realistic alternative to marriage, she continued.

The last speaker, Professor Brenda Almond, author of the book The Fragmenting Family, said that marriage was “a natural biological phenomenon” and that married parents offered children “the best opportunity for a happy childhood”.

Professor Almond, Emeritus Professor of Moral and Social Philosophy at the University of Hull, said that her talk challenged “some the cherished dogmas of our day”.

These included the belief that “divorce or parting doesn’t hurt, that deep attachments can be unilaterally shattered; that what adults in their personal lives do cannot seriously harm their children; that not making a commitment in the first place can solve the problem and that  ‘family’ can mean whatever we want it to mean.

Such ideas, she concluded, “must count as the serious mistakes of the last half century”.

Also attending the event were a number of politicians, including Fine Gael TDs Lucinda Crieghton and Sean Barrett, Fianna Fail TD Michael Woods and Senator Ronan Mullen.

Speaking to ciNews, Mr Tom O'Gorman, a researcher for the Iona Institute, said the conference had been a great success, and that there had been a great deal of media interest in the event.

“Ireland needs to pay serious attention to this issue now,” Mr O'Gorman said. “We need more research into the causes of marital breakdown, and into ways that we can address those causes in terms of public policy.”