The whole world is watching as Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, await the birth of their first child.
While media outlets scramble for delivery details and speculate wildly on the royal baby’s sex and name, the rest of the Britain is birthing babies at record rates – and nearly half of the blessed arrivals are coming from unmarried couples.
A new report in The Telegraph reveals that the proportion of children born to unmarried mothers in Britain hit a record 47.5 per cent last year, according to the Office for National Statistics. That figure marks a sharp increase from 25 per cent in 1988 and a mere 11 per cent in 1979.
On a global scale, the most recent available statistics show that the highest rates of non-marital childbearing occur in Latin America, which ranges between 55 per cent and 74 per cent, followed by South Africa (59 per cent) and Sweden (55 per cent). The range within Europe veers from prudish Italy (18 per cent) to swinging Sweden (55 per cent).
In North America, the percentage of children born to ummarried couples stands at 41 per cent in the United States and a respectable 25 per cent in Canada. We are Canadian! But it’s easy to see how the sharp rise in babies born to unwed couples could upset the British populace. Last year a total of 346,595 babies were born outside marriage and civil partnerships in England and Wales, and if the trend continues at the current rate, the majority of British children will be born to parents who are not married by 2016. Is that the sound of Queen Victoria spinning in her grave?
Obviously, the statistic has Conservative MPs and various British child-rearing experts up in arms and warning that the sharp dip in marriage will lead to broken families and bleak futures for the little bastards.
Former Children’s minister Tim Loughton immediately called on the government to introduce tax breaks for married couples, saying, “If people are prepared to make a public declaration to each other in front of their friends and family they are more likely to stay together. Without marriage people drift in and out of relationships very easily.”
The alarming new statistics represent the first time since the British Census was founded in 1801 that married couples have been in a minority. More than 11-million people in England and Wales are single, while more than five million unmarried people live with their partners. A total of 150,000 people declared themselves to be in civil relationships.
Those numbers don’t sit well with The Centre for Social Justice, a think tank founded by the Conservative Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith. Director Christian Guy (real name) believes that, “Marriage is not a right-wing obsession but a crucial social issue. People throughout society want to marry but cultural and financial barriers faced by those in the poorest communities thwart their aspirations.”
And what sort of future can the kids of unmarried couples expect? “Evidence shows quite clearly that children growing up with married parents tend to have better life chances,” said Guy. “The government must deliver on its family-friendly pledge.”
British prime minister David Cameron has already promised to introduce legislation to give couples tax breaks by the end of 2013. Cameron has been forced to put a timetable on government plans to recognize marriage in the tax system following pressure from Conservatives.
The same ONS report indicates that British mothers now have an average of two children each, the highest fertility rate since the seventies. The rise in birth rates is being credited to immigration and women choosing to have children later in life.
The number of women aged over 40 reached a record number of 29,994, which is way up from a measly 6519 in 2002.
In fact, even the younger mothers are older these days. The average age of British mothers has risen to 29.8 years, compared to 27 back in 1982. “These trends reflect the increasing numbers of women delaying childbearing to later ages,” said the ONS report.
“This may be due to a number of factors such as increased participation in higher education, increased female participation in the labour force, the increasing importance of a career, the rising opportunity costs of childbearing, labour market uncertainty, housing factors and instability of partnership.”
Meanwhile, we have the breaking news that the newest royal baby can expect to receive “hands-on parenting.”