Belfast Telegraph

Cash fears put many Northern Ireland couples off tying knot, survey reveals

By Claire McNeilly

Marriage rates in Northern Ireland have declined sharply in recent decades, a report reveals today.

Meanwhile, cohabitation, the number of births outside marriage and instances of marital breakdown have all increased.

Research from the Iona Institute, a religious lobby group, also found there is a huge gap in social classes when it comes to marriage across Northern Ireland, with many couples too poor to tie the knot.

Figures sourced from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that just over 60% of upper professional workers are married, compared to less than a third of unskilled workers.

Entitled 'Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland', the report indicates that for many of the more socially disadvantaged here the dream of walking down the aisle will never become a reality.

Indeed, workers in professional occupations are almost twice as likely as unskilled workers to be married.

Statistics from NISRA show that in the late 1960s and early 1970s, around 12,000 couples in Northern Ireland married each year compared to 8,000 today.

In other words, the marriage rate here in 1970 was 8.1 marriages per thousand whereas in 2013 it had fallen to 4.4.

Tracy Harkin from the Iona Institute said the results should be deeply concerning for anyone who believes in the importance of marriage.

"Social disadvantage clearly diminishes a person's chances of marrying and not marrying in turn increases the odds of remaining socially disadvantaged," she said.

"It is a vicious circle and it is one that obviously affects children as well."

She referred to a US study by one of that country's most esteemed social scientists which has shown that if Americans married at the same rate as in 1970, rates of poverty in that country would diminish by between 20% and 30%.

Ms Harkin added: "People are less likely to marry if they feel financially insecure. There are also disincentives to marry built into the social welfare system.

"This is an issue of justice and of equality and cries out for public debate that will, hopefully, help us all to work to close the marriage gap between the poor and the better off locally".

Belfast Telegraph

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