Benefits system ‘puts poorer people off tying the knot’


Wealthier couples are now twice as likely to marry before having children as a result of Britain’s skewed benefits system, a campaign group has warned.

The Marriage Foundation said the shocking statistic shows that senior politicians should break their silence and start promoting the benefits of tying the knot.

It warned that the collapse in the number of weddings among those on lower incomes could have “profound consequences” for society and “children’s outcomes”.

Last year was the first time since records began that more than half of children were born outside of wedlock, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.


The Marriage Foundation, which was set up by former High Court judge Sir Paul Coleridge, analysed the statistics related to babies born in 2021.

It found that seven out of 10 new parents that year who it classed as highly paid were married, compared with just one in three on lower incomes.

Whilst marriage rates have declined across the board, it said “the trend is far more advanced among lower income than higher income households”.

The campaign group said the biggest factor driving the fall within less well paid workers was the benefits system, which features a “couple penalty”.

“The way tax credits are calculated based on household income provides a huge disincentive for couples to move in together, let alone marry,” said its report.

'Inflated expectations and social norms'

Another disincentive to tie the knot amongst this group was said to be the perception that weddings have to be enormously lavish and expensive.

The Marriage Foundation said magazines that promote the idea that ceremonies cost £30,000, when the average bill is £5,000 and £10,000, put people off.

It branded such claims as “irresponsible” and added: “Inflated expectations and social norms are often cited as the reason couples aren’t married.”

The group also warned that “fear of divorce”, particularly amongst people who have seen their parents split, is a reason for “wariness” towards marriage.

Finally, it said politicians are to blame for the fact that “public messaging has increasingly failed to distinguish marriage over any other family form”.

“Government policy has long ceased to provide direct support for married families or even separate being married from living together as if married,” it said.

Sir Paul urged senior politicians, who are mostly married, to end their “deafening silence” and added: “It’s surely time they preached what they almost all practice.

“When we look at who actually ties the knot, the answer is predominantly the rich. The simple and real tragedy is the less money you have, the less likely you are to marry”.