However, behind the agenda for promoting alternative lifestyles the statistics clearly show the foolhardiness of such an approach, since they demonstrate that much the best foundation for bringing up children is through the institution of marriage, in which couples give a clear public commitment to each other. Relationships between couples who merely cohabit are generally of much shorter duration and thus fail to provide the stability which children need in their upbringing. Cohabiting relationships are fragile. They are more likely to break up than marriages entered into at the same time, regardless of age or income. On average, cohabitations last less than two years, and less than four per cent of cohabitations last for ten years or more. Surprisingly cohabitating couples with children are even more likely to break up than childless ones. Children born to cohabiting parents are more likely to face disruptions in their family life, with harmful consequences for their emotional and educational development.
A significant proportion of one-parent families are created through the break-up of cohabiting unions. The statistics also show that children brought up without fathers are the most likely to be disruptive, have lower educational attainment, greater probability of unemployment, are more likely to turn to crime and to perpetuate this cycle of deprivation. This is not to say that all single mothers necessarily make poor parents, indeed some succeed in very difficult circumstances, but the odds are usually stacked against them. So it is very much in the interests of society to insist that firm measures are taken to ensure that children are brought up within marriage, unless there are compelling reasons to the contrary.
Marriage, if taken seriously, demonstrates a clear responsibility and commitment by both husband and wife to the upbringing of children. The acceptance of a much broader definitions of 'family' has allowed the institution of marriage to become downgraded to one of a series of supposedly equally valid 'lifestyles'. There is now an increasing likelihood that marriage might wither away altogether since the number of marriages continues to fall year by year. The Office of National Statistics has reported that it expects unmarried people in Britain to outnumber the married in the not too distant future. Family law no longer makes any attempt to buttress the stability of marriage. It has adopted principles for the 'protection' of children that are equally applicable to the unmarried, leading to the piecemeal erosion of the distinction between marriage and co-habitation. As a result, the breakdown of the traditional family has lead to a society in which adults increasingly place their own personal self interest, happiness, pleasure and desire for new relationships, above the interests and needs of their children.