Is marriage a historical relic?

Last updated 12:00 20/06/2011

Politicians in the past often talked about marriage being the bedrock of society, and marriage certainly was the norm. The number of solo parents was a fraction of what it is today, and the concept of a couple having children without being married was almost foreign. In fact for many couples they married specifically so they could have children.

We seem to be in a very different world today. Personally I'm still a believer in marriage, and I am typing this from an apartment in London, as I have travelled to the UK to attend the wedding of one of my mates. I love seeing a couple commit to remaining together until death do them part.

But the statistics out last week from Stats NZ show marriage continues to be in decline, perhaps terminal decline. The marriage rate is now barely higher than the divorce rate.

In 1975 the marriage rate was 36.9 and the divorce rate was 6.6, so around four-and-a-half times as high. In 2010 the marriage rate had fallen to 12.5 and the divorce rate was 10.2. This is slightly lower than the peak divorce rate of 17.1 in 1982. I wonder why it was so high that year - maybe it was arguments over the Springbok tour?

Marriage Rates 1975 - 2010

You can see the dramatic decline in the last 35 years. And as older generations die off, married couples will become rarer. In the 2006 census, the poportion of the over-15 population who were married dropped below 50 per cent for the first time.

Not all of the decline is due to people not marrying. Some of it is because people are marrying later. The median age 30 years ago for men (first time) was 24, and today it is 30. Women have gone from 22 to 28.

Despite the declining marriage rate, it is interesting that very few prime ministers have not been married (at least when elected). John Key is married, as was Helen Clark, Jenny Shipley, Jim Bolger, Mike Moore, Geoffrey Palmer and David Lange. Lange did seperate in office, but just before he resigned as PM.

Further back Muldoon, Kirk, Marshall, Holyoake, Holland, Fraser were all married. The last unmarried prime minister of New Zealand was Michael Joseph Savage, elected in 1935.

Is it just coincidence that no unmarried MP has become prime minister for 75 years? Would an unmarried MP struggle to be elected prime minister today, or would people not care? In the United Kingdom, Ted Heath was elected in 1970 and it didn't seem to be a big deal. Would it be here?

David Farrar is a centre-right blogger affiliated with the National Party.

83 comments
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JeM   #1   12:05 pm Jun 20 2011

I'm a big believer of marriage. I'm still in my 20's but married 7 years ago, did all my travelling and career building whilst married and only now just had kids - so it can be done that way! But in terms of married politicians, I don't think anyone would care. While yes, Helen Clark was married, you never heard boo out of her husband and she didn't take his name. So I just don't think it's a factor.

Field Marshall   #2   12:15 pm Jun 20 2011

MP's are the ones who vote for the party Leader - not us!

Looks like the rainbow coalition is doing the numbers on Goff!

gazza   #3   12:19 pm Jun 20 2011

not sure if its dead as such, there are still people around to whom its a big deal...but there are alot of people like myself who see it as pointless.

From my point of view it's a religous ceremoney from a religion I do not believe in that cost's alot of money (potentially anyway) and does not seem to add anything worth while to my relationship. Do I need a piece of paper and a shiny ring to prove I am committed to my relationship? No. I have been with my partner for over 12 years, I know I am commited to it, she knows as well and everyone that knows us well is also aware of how strong our relationship is.

I suspect people with my viewpoint are growing as religion has lost its stranglehold on society's sense of decency.

atheist   #4   12:26 pm Jun 20 2011

I see marriage as a strictly religious or traditional thing and given that I'm neither religious nor of a traditional bent I don't see marriage as important or necessary. I've heard people say "Oh, you're not committed to her if you don't marry her." I and my partner have been together 10 years. That's longer than most marriages last nowadays. If that's not commitment I don't know what is.

aaronp   #5   12:28 pm Jun 20 2011

OK, the guy's a political blogger but is there not a more interesting social correlation to make from these kind of statistics than whether the nation could "accept" an unmarried PM..?! Surely it's inevitable they will if there's not much else going and the majority of voters are unmarried.

dave   #6   12:30 pm Jun 20 2011

Perhaps Grant Robertson will be NZ's first unmarried Prime Minister?

Veronica   #7   12:36 pm Jun 20 2011

I firmly believe in marriage! In fact been married 39 years this year!! To me it means commitment. When I hear someone referred to as my 'partner' i think, Wonder for how long?

Rose   #8   12:36 pm Jun 20 2011

Maybe the correlation between being married and being PM isn't to do with the voters swaying towards that attribute in a leader but instead a link between being the type of person who has a successful marriage and being a successful leader? I am recently Married and have noticed Marriage seems to be back in vogue so maybe we will see a change in the statistical trend over the next few years!

MRG   #9   12:37 pm Jun 20 2011

Is marriage a historical relic?

No.

But people do seem to have this weird thing whereby politicians are supposed to be "normal" and almost saints. They can't do stuff that most of us would happily do given have the chance.

Seems weird to me anyway.

petrolhead   #10   12:38 pm Jun 20 2011

Am a believer in marriage.It is a good thing.


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