When discussion turns to root causes for many of Canada's social ills, the breakdown of the family is inevitably among them. Single parenthood is statistically a prime catalyst for the creation of more households living at poverty standards, and the resultant social and emotional turmoil among the children affected by it. That is not to say, of course, that single-parent families are all doomed to self-destruct and become a charge on the social welfare net, but rather that marriage offers the best blueprint for creating and maintaining the stability children need to thrive.
Of course, that is also not to say that people in abusive or otherwise destructive marriages should remain in them for the children's sake. But a report from the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada points to a disturbing trend in cohabiting, a trend which would indicate that for the purposes of raising children, living together is deemed to be no different than marriage.
The report's authors, Andrea Mrozek and Rebecca Walberg, point out that when parents live common-law or a single parent raises a child from birth, families are more likely to rely on welfare, low-income housing programs and day-care subsidies. They say a conservative estimate of these costs to the taxpayer amounts to about $7 billion a year. They're calling on the federal government to offer incentives to people to tie the knot, such as cutting off common-law couples from tax benefits married couples enjoy.
There is something about making a vow and sealing a commitment in a marriage ceremony that lends gravitas to a relationship and inspires the couple to work harder at it, than the mere decision to move in together. Four years ago, Statistics Canada reported that in 1981, about six per cent of couples were living together, but by 2001, the figure was approximately 14 per cent. StatsCan also reported in 2003 that 63 per cent of cohabiting relationships end within 10 years, while only 14 per cent of married couples split up in that time.
Finding ways to encourage people to marry is to the government's advantage. Marriage fosters a stable, nurturing environment for children who in turn grow up independent of the social safety net, and emotionally healthy enough to enter into and maintain stable marriages of their own.
Ottawa may have no business in the bedrooms of the nation, but it has a huge social and economic stake in the future of Canadian children. The federal government should use this report to say "I do" to looking into a host of ways, including reforming the tax structure in favour of married couples -- two-in-come or otherwise--that will be an incentive for people to make the bond between them official.