Is having children out of wedlock really that bad?
A few days ago, in the Sydney Morning Herald social commentator Bettina Arndt fretted about the potential for Julia Gillard’s lifestyle choices – namely, not getting married - to “influence other women into making big mistakes about their lives.”
The crux of her angst seems to be that Julia’s defacto arrangement may influence more and more women to do the same instead of walking down the aisle, and in doing so they may end up “childless and partnerless as they hit 40.”
Now, putting aside the fact that I can’t personally imagine making any of my major life choices based on what the Prime Minister of the day was or wasn’t doing (after all, I’ve never been tempted to get a comb-over, attend church or get a divorce just because previous PMs have) I think Bettina’s worrying a bit unnecessarily – plenty of kids are born out of wedlock.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s most recent data, around 35% of kids are currently born out of wedlock, so chances are that your little Johnny or Jane is sitting next to one of them at school – imagine that! And they look just the same, too!
Interestingly, this is based on 2008 data – right in the middle of Kevin07’s reign. All these non-marital bedroom shenanigans were happening right under the nose of our long- married, ultra-conservative, regularly church-going PM. Shocking!
Add to that the fact that more than one-third of marriages end in divorce (and around half those marriages involve kids) and you’d have to say that children have a pretty high likelihood of not growing up in a traditional nuclear family, whether their parents ever do the bridal march or not.
Whether this is good or bad for the kids is an issue that will never be agreed upon, but on a positive note, according to the Australian Institute of Family Studies www.aifs.gov.au kids seem to enjoy themselves no matter what their family construct. This year the AIFS asked children whether they had fun with their parents: Three-quarters (76%) of children living in couple families said they had fun with their family “lots of times”, compared to 74% living in a single-parent family.
So if the happiness of our children is paramount – does being a de-facto really matter at all?
On the other hand if it’s the happiness of the women that is at stake; if women “end up stranded when they spend years in a succession of de facto relationships waiting for Mr Not Ready or Mr Maybe to make up his mind” then take heart. Sandra Buchler is a PhD Candidate in the School of Social Science, at the University of Queensland. She’s presenting a paper on her research finding at the AIFS conference in Melbourne next week. And her findings are – well, they’re pretty positive if you don’t want to get hitched! Apparently, you are just as likely to be happy if you are in a defacto relationship as you are if you’re married.
“My research is investigating the relationship between marital status and subjective happiness,” she says. “As part of that I take into account variables such as gender, age, education, health, fertility intentions, financial and partner satisfaction. And when you compare like with like (individuals who are similar) then the results indicate that marriage confers no greater happiness than cohabitation.”
I’m sure that there are some women – and men as well – who would be reluctant to have children outside of marriage. Indeed, one of the people whom I interviewed for my recent book did express that view. But the days of calling exnuptial children bastards and pointing out their mothers as fallen women are long gone. We are a far more accepting society now. Aren’t we?
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