Editor's Viewpoint: Marriage statistics and the poverty gap
Northern Ireland is a statistician's delight. The compact nature of the province and its diverse population has always made it the perfect place for social surveys.
Most of those have concentrated on the community divide and reactions to political developments, but the one published today by the Iona Institute, a religious lobby group, throws up a very surprising and hitherto unrecognised finding.
Using figures sourced from the NI Statistics and Research Agency, it revealed that the likelihood of someone getting married depends on their socio-economic class.
Just over 60% of upper professional workers are married compared to less than a third of unskilled workers. The obvious conclusion to be drawn is that some people are literally too poor to marry or, at least, feel they cannot afford the type of ceremony and lavish honeymoon they would like.
This finding is most surprising because there is a perception that Northern Ireland is a conservative society and that the inclination is towards marriage rather than co-habitating.
However, the figures do not bear that out. During the 1960s and early 1970s some 12,000 couples a year married compared to only 8,000 a year now, when the population is significantly larger.
As well as poverty another disincentive to marriage identified by the study is the welfare system where greater benefits can be obtained by those who are single. That would obviously affect those in the lower socio-economic classes rather than those in professional occupations.
As the Iona Institute says, the figures should spark a debate on inequality in Northern Ireland society and how the gap between the haves and the have nots can be closed. That is obviously a debate which would be best held among the local political parties if devolved government is restored, although some of the comments emanating from the main players yesterday dampened the optimism that a breakthrough is imminent.
It is ironic that this survey should be published on Valentine's Day, when thoughts of many turn toward the idea of love. But it seems the price of love is too much for some.
Perhaps they should realise that money cannot buy happiness, but that marriage, statistically at least, can help mitigate disadvantage in life. That was a lesson learned by previous generations, and perhaps today's couples should pay heed.