Marriage in Ireland: a quick response to Fintan O’Toole

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In his latest opinion piece in The Irish Times, Fintan O’Toole takes issue with The Iona Institute’s thesis that marriage in Ireland is in decline. On the contrary, says O’Toole, marriage “has proven to be far more robust than either conservatives or radicals ever imagined.”

Unfortunately, Fintan can only make such a broad claim by ignoring lots of statistical evidence to the contrary.

For example, he selectively quotes from an Iona Institute press release from September last year prompted by CSO figures showing that the marriage rate in Ireland had fallen to 4.3 people per thousand in 2011.

He correctly points out that in 2012 the rate increased to 4.6 per thousand. But he leaves out a very important fact from our press release, namely that our marriage rate has plunged from 7.4 per thousand in 1974.

Our marriage rate is much more important than the absolute number of people getting married. Of course that has increased because the overall population has increased.

There is no getting away from the fact that our marriage rate is now low by European standards and is on a par with the British figure which is at an historical low.

There are other extremely important measures of the health of marriage which Fintan ignores. One is the very high number of births outside marriage. It stands at more than one in three.

Another is the huge increase in cohabitation. Over 15 percent of couples now cohabit.

Yet another is the big increase in the number of divorced and separated people. Admittedly our divorce rate is still very low by European standards, but our rate of cohabitation and our out-of-wedlock birthrate are actually quite high by European standards.

If you want a more detailed breakdown of the figures vis-à-vis the Irish family based on Census data, then have a look at this document we produced last year.

Something else Fintan might like to think about for a bit is the fact that marriage is in much deeper trouble in disadvantaged areas than in middle class ones. He could consider these figures for example and ponder their significance.

Given how our figures on marriage are converging in most respects with the average for Western societies - and very few people would say marriage in the West as a whole is in rude good health – one has to wonder when Fintan will finally conclude that perhaps marriage in Ireland isn’t in such fantastic shape after all.

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