MEDIA RELEASE - Perfect Storm Of Rock-Bottom Marriage & Fertility Rates

MEDIA RELEASE – ‘Perfect Storm’ Of Rock-Bottom Marriage & Fertility Rates


Family First NZ is warning that the declining marriage and fertility rates and high family breakdown rates are setting up a ‘perfect storm’ for negative social consequences in New Zealand. According to statistics just released, the general marriage rate dropped to a record low in 2023 of only 9 couples per 1,000 people eligible to marry (unmarried people aged 16 years and over).

In 1971, the marriage rate was approximately 45 and the divorce rate was 5 per 1,000 people. Today, the rates are almost the same with marriage plummeting to 9 (one-fifth of the 1971 peak) and the divorce rate at almost 8.

483 were same-sex marriages or civil unions, 2.5% of all marriages, and bolstered by overseas couples marrying in New Zealand (207).

New Zealanders are also marrying about eight years later in life on average. In 1971, when marriage rates peaked, the median age at first marriage was approximately 21 years for women and 23 years for men. In 2023, the median age of females marrying was 32 years and 33 years for males.

We should all be concerned that marriage rates are at a shocking all-time low. The weakening of marriage is one of the most important social issues we are facing. A 2016 report on child abuse and its causes argued that the ‘elephant in the room’ is family structure, and that the growth of child abuse has accompanied a reduction in marriage and an increase in cohabiting and single-parent families.

The report follows on from an earlier report on child poverty and its similar link to family structure, and a report on imprisonment rates (released in June 2018). That 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.

The statistics are clear on marriage. Children being raised by their married biological parents are by far the safest from violence – and so too are the adults. But whenever marriage is promoted, it has often been labelled as an attack on solo or divorced parents, and that has kept us from recognising the qualitative benefits of marriage which have been discovered from 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. It simply acknowledges the benefits of the institution of marriage.

As a likely consequence of falling marriage rates, New Zealand’s fertility rate has also reached an all-time low, with an average of 1.58 births per woman in the year ending September 2023, well below the population replacement level of 2.1 required, and the lowest on record.

This should also be sounding alarm bells for politicians and policymakers in New Zealand. With a declining fertility rate comes a reliance on migration to provide for an aging population – but all countries around the world will be competing for that migration, because most countries are facing the same dilemma. We need a younger population to provide a workforce for economic growth. An aging population will also place a burden on the economy through increasing health care, aged care, and other fiscal costs such as the government pension.

Lindsay Mitchell, author of Families: Ever Fewer or No Children, How Worried Should We Be?“ – a recent report from Family First NZ – says “Without population replacement or growth, economies decline. A nation’s strength lies in its young: their energy, innovation, risk-taking and entrepreneurship. The new blood drives the exchange of ideas and experimentation. If these attributes aren’t home-grown, they have to be imported. At an individual level, single person households are the fastest growing household type in New Zealand. Increasingly people face old-age with few or no family supports.”

Marriage isn’t perfect, but we ignore its benefits at our peril, including the effect on our fertility rate and the social and fiscal costs of weak family formation and family breakdown.

It’s time we promoted the best model possible.

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