Friday, August 31, 2007

The Cock, the Chicken and the Egg

David Cameron's appearance on Newsnight last night was interesting. I see he's been working on his super sincere "I've got gravitas" face. Impressive...

On marriage, he said something which had me scratching my head.
The evidence shows that marriage is a good institution that encourages people to commit to each other and to stay with each other.
He then acknowledged that some marriages do break up, fair enough, but what evidence is he referring too which demonstrates that marriage encourages people to stay together? He helpfully outlined it:
There is some very interesting evidence that Iain Duncan Smith put in his report which is that if you take an unmarried couple with a child, by the time that child reaches the age of five, half of them have separated. The figure for married couple is one in twelve.
Well, that is certainly evidence. I'll even give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it's true for now. What conclusion can be drawn from this evidence, Mr Cameron?
That to me is a figure we really have to look at and think marriage is a good institution, we should back it, and I think including in the tax system.
In summary, the argument is that because married people with children tend to stay together longer than unmarried couples, the institution of marriage causes these couples to stay together longer.

Hmm...

The detailed reasoning behind this argument is apparently contained in a previous report called Fractured Families. A helpful link to that report is provided in the newer one (pdf, page 13) but, alas, 404 Not Found doesn't really advance the case a great deal.

Without being able to access the details, it does seem like there might be just a tiny wee hole in this "evidence".

In the conclusions to the new report we find this comment (page 107):
As the chairwoman of OXPIP [an organisation which helps parents to bond with their children] said to us, ‘Marriage is the natural consequence of two adults being able to commit to each other because their own emotional development is secure and has given them the necessary confidence.’
To put it another way, marriage might well be a result of the relationship between two people who are already more likely to stay together than other couples.

The figures quoted by Cameron certainly don't prove that marriage "encourages people to commit to each other and to stay with each other". They might just as easily suggest that people who feel they are ready to get married under the current legislative framework are people who are already more likely to be able to maintain a stable relationship over a prolonged period. If the second suggestion is true, Cameron's policy proposals are only going to increase the divorce rate by encouraging marriages between people who are not actually ready to make that commitment.

Bizarrely, as if this has somehow registered subconsciously in the minds of the authors, they wrote this as the response to the comment on marriage as a natural consequence of emotional development:
It is for this reason that we have resisted incentivising marriage although our measures strongly encourage it.
Wibble.

3 comments:

Tom Freeman said...

Encouraging without incentivising, eh? Good good.

It seem that the Tories have taken down their poverty reports (or at least moved them). Cheeky.

If you're interested, I took a look at what they had to say about marrriage in the July report.

It turns out that once you control for various factors (age, wealth, etc.), a lot of the headline statistics about marriage being more stable than cohabitation evaporate.

CuriousHamster said...

Thanks for that link tom. Excellent post.

Demon said...

The Tories think you should marry for the money?

This proposal makes sense, if you think about their social origins.