McBLOG: Family breakdown is costing all of us

Family First has just released a new report which calculates that the fiscal cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates has been estimated at around $2 billion (around $520 per taxpayer) in 2020-2021.   Read Full Report Here.

Family First has just released a new report which calculates that the fiscal cost to the taxpayer of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates has been estimated at around $2 billion (around $520 per taxpayer) in 2020-2021. So not only does family breakdown impact adults and children both emotionally and financially, but it also costs taxpayers in helping repair the breakdown. Perhaps we should invest in strengthening marriages and families. 

The report “The Value of Family – Fiscal Benefits of Marriage and Reducing Family Breakdown in New Zealand” was commissioned by Family First NZ and prepared by international economist Andrew Bullians. This report is an update of the previous 2008 NZIER report, also commissioned by Family First NZ.

The cost has doubled since 2008-9 when the fiscal cost was just $1 billion or $300 per taxpayer. Over the last twelve years the cost would be in the order of $21 billion.

Andrew Bullians says that measuring the costs of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates raises many challenges, but that failing to consider and debate these costs would, however, mean that we would have little chance of understanding some of the most important issues facing New Zealand’s most vulnerable families.

“While divorce may on occasion help avoid negative family outcomes (such as in high conflict situations), international research suggests that the private costs of divorce and unmarried childbearing include increased risks of poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, sexual abuse and other forms of family violence, economic hardship, substance abuse, and educational failure. In this report, emphasis is given to the effect of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates on poverty among families with children,” 

“Family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates also lead to social costs by increasing the fiscal costs to taxpayers through increasing take-up of government programmes (e.g., the number of children and adults in need of income assistance) and through influencing the social problems facing communities – such as crime and poor health outcomes. Both of these categories of taxpayer cost are considered in this report.

The author warns that these estimates of the taxpayer cost in New Zealand should, however, be qualified by the need for further research and debate on the assumptions employed in this paper, particularly those

relating to the relationship between family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates and poverty

among families with children, and the relationship between changes in poverty rates and levels of government expenditure in a range of policy areas. 

“The discussion in this report has implications for a range of policy areas. In particular, international experience supports the use of a range of programmes and services to reduce unwed pregnancy among teen mothers and to help prepare couples for and support them during marriage. The further development of such programmes and services could provide a fruitful direction for government policy in New Zealand,” 

It has always been understood that there is a stability that marriage brings which is not so easily replicated in other partnership arrangements, and which can create the best environment possible for children.

Research is persuasive; children raised by their married biological parents are by far the safest from violence, abuse, poverty, and from prison – and so too are the adults. 

Not always – but the exception actually reinforces the norm.

A child’s deepest desire is for their mum and dad to stay together. It’s not always possible – and that’s why divorce and separation and breakdown of family can be so devastating for children.

But often when marriage is promoted, it is interpreted as an attack on solo or divorced parents. That prevents us from recognising the benefits of marriage supported by decades of research. 

In virtually every category that social science has measured, children and adults do better when parents get married and stay married – provided there is no presence of high conflict or violence. 

This is not a criticism of solo parents. They deserve to be honoured for their hard work and sacrifice. 

It simply acknowledges the benefits of the institution of marriage. 

To back this statement up, just last September, Stats NZ announced that sole parents of dependent children report lower levels of wellbeing across a range of measures, including mental health and loneliness. The overwhelming majority of these sole parents were women.

However, according to the most recently reported statistics, the general marriage rate in New Zealand has dropped to a record low of only 10 couples per 1,000 people eligible to marry. This is less than half of the rate of 30 years ago and follows a general decline since the peak in 1971 when the marriage rate was 45.5 per 1,000. So 45 per 1000 down to 10 – in just 5 decades.

That decline is one of our most important social issues.

A recent report we commissioned on child abuse in New Zealand and its causes argued that ‘family structure’ is the ‘elephant in the room’, and that the growth of child abuse has accompanied a reduction in marriage and an increase in cohabiting and single-parent families. 

The presence of biological fathers matters because, generally – but not every time, it protects children from child abuse. Marriage presents the greatest likelihood that the father will remain part of an intact family. 

Compared to married parents, cohabiting parents are 4-5 times more likely to separate by the time their child is aged five. The Christchurch Child Development Study found that cohabitation or living together is a foremost risk factor for breakdown of the child’s family in the first five years of the child’s life. 

Marriage can act as a glue.

The child abuse report follows on from an earlier report we also commissioned on child poverty and its similar link to family structure

And a report on imprisonment rates. The imprisonment report stated that if the government doesn’t want to keep building more prisons, it needs to look to the children who are potentially tomorrow’s offenders and acknowledge the role family stability plays.

On average, on average, children raised by married couples have the best outcomes in health, education and income, and by far the lowest involvement with the criminal justice system.

This new report shows that the decline of marriage, NZ’s comparatively high teenage fertility rate, and our rate of solo parenthood is not just a moral or social concern but should also be a concern for government and policymakers. The report states that even a small reduction in family breakdown and increases in marriage rates could provide significant savings for taxpayers. 

Ultimately though strengthening marriages & family resilience, and reducing family breakdown is a significant public concern, both in human costs and economically.

irrespective of whether its PC to say so – Marriage matters. The facts speak for themselves. 


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