There’s a long tradition for Western countries to preach to women in the developing world about the importance of planned parenthood – telling them they will improve their own lives and those of their children if they delay having families until they have established themselves. 

So how is it that when it comes to our own disadvantaged communities this vital lesson is conveniently forgotten?

I’ve just published an article, in The Australian Magazine looking at recent changes in marriage patterns. It’s based on a report, Knot Yet, from the Washington -based Brookings Institute, which examines who are the winners and losers from the shift in the age of first marriage. There’s been a huge leap over the last forty years in the age of first marriage – from the early twenties to almost thirty.

The Knot Yet report finds this delay is having profound social impacts – patterns I found to be mirrored in Australia.

  • Delayed marriage means richer women. Professional women end up earning far more by setting themselves up before marriage – a cool $18,000 p.a. according to the US research.
  • Men are earning less by delaying putting their nose to the grindstone. Most well-educated women are still seeking to marry before having children.
  • Yet many miss out in the competitive 30s marriage market – there are nearly 100,000 childless never-married women in their forties.
  • Less-educated women are less likely to marry but have children in defacto relationships – which are 3 times more likely to break up within four years than marriages. Children in these families show poorer learning, social and emotional development and experience poorer parenting.  

The critical finding is that these dramatic changes in marriage patterns are adding to the gap between the haves and have-nots.  Well-educated women and their children are better off and live more stable lives while the marriage choices of less-educated women increase their families’ disadvantage.

For all the talk about gay marriage, these are the marriage patterns impacting most on our society. So why aren’t we talking about them?

Read my article – For Better or for Worse.