COVER STORY by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Divorce now costs Australia $14 billion a year
, July 19, 2014
The sexual revolution of the ’60s gave us a lot of harmful and destructive things, and no-fault, easy divorce was certainly one of them. By making the marriage contract hardly worth the piece of paper it was signed on, marriage became one of the most easily broken contracts around.
Kevin Andrews MP
Indeed, instead of viewing marriage as a covenant, we managed to reduce it to a mere contract, and a contract extremely easy to unilaterally break. It is harder to get fired from McDonald’s Family Restaurants today than it is to walk out on a marriage.
And there are tremendous costs all around when marriages break up. Obviously the couple is torn apart, along with the two families involved in the relationship. If children are part of the marriage, they suffer too.
We now have many quality longitudinal studies on this, demonstrating clearly that most children suffer hugely from parental divorce, and they feel that pain and angst decades afterwards. So children are often the biggest losers when it comes to divorce.
In 1975, Judith Wallerstein started interviewing a group of 131 children whose parents were all going through a divorce. She asked them to tell her about the intimate details of their lives, which they did with remarkable candour. Twenty-five years later her findings appeared in a book she co-wrote with Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000), which I reviewed at the time (CultureWatch, September 15, 2000).
It is not just the families involved but also society as a whole, which loses out. Just as marriage is not a mere private affair, but is a public good and a social institution, so too divorce has more than just personal ramifications. All of society is impacted when couples break up. And we all pay a price here — quite literally.
Society suffers when marriages fail, and we all have to bear the costs, which are enormous. A new analysis has shown that divorce in Australia costs us $14 billion a year.
Writing in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Lauren Wilson and Lisa Cornish report the following: “Divorce and family breakdowns are costing the national economy more than $14 billion a year in government assistance payments and court costs, an exclusive News Corp analysis has found.
“That figure has blown out by $2 billion in the last two years alone, with each Australian taxpayer now paying about $1,100 a year to support families in crisis….
“A News Corp analysis of information from the federal Attorney-General’s Department, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Social Services, shows that this financial year alone the government will spend $12.5 billion on support payments to single parents, including family tax benefits and rent assistance.
“Another $1.5 billion will be spent on the administration of the child support system, while the cost to taxpayers from family disputes in Australian courts is $202 million.
“Almost 50,000 people get divorced each year in Australia, and while the divorce rate declined between 2002 and 2008, it is now on the rise again.
“Over the last two years, the cost of divorce to the national economy has increased by more than $2 billion, or 17 per cent.”
Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews, who has long been concerned about such matters, wrote a large volume two years ago, Maybe ‘I Do’: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness (2012), in which he highlighted the importance of marriage. He emphasised the need for intervention here, not just picking up the pieces afterwards.
According to the Herald Sun report: “Mr Andrews told News Corp that as early as this month he will act to establish an expert panel on early intervention, which will be made up of a mix of practitioners and academics. It will examine strategies to lower the divorce rate and better identify and assist vulnerable children and young people, including looking at whether more psychologists need to be deployed in kindergartens and preschools across the country.”
Mr Andrews said: “The reality is that most programs are programs that try to ameliorate the impact of marriage and family relationship breakdowns. There is not enough that goes to early intervention.”
Other experts agree: “Academic and relationship expert from the University of Queensland Matthew Bambling said he was not surprised the cost of divorce to the national economy had now topped $14 billion. ‘It is one of the key sources of transitory poverty among working people,’ Dr Bambling said.
“‘People may be required to rely in greater part on the social welfare system, there is the potential for court costs borne through the government-funded system,’ he said. ‘If we are not thinking about this as a society, we are likely to pay the price with a lot more mopping up at the other end.’
“Relationships Australia’s Grant Pearson has welcomed the government’s relationship counselling voucher system and its push to overhaul early intervention strategies.
“He said more government resources for programs which deliver early intervention, like relationship counselling, would be beneficial both to couples and to the nation’s budget bottom line” (Herald Sun, Melbourne, July 6, 2014).
Of course, it is not just the financial and wider social costs of divorce that should concern us here. As mentioned, children suffer, adults suffer, and all of society suffers. For example, we have long known that the safest place for a child is with his own biological mother and father who are married.
There is no safer place for a child. With widespread divorce — and/or marriage being avoided in the first place — children are at much greater risk of abuse and other problems. A new study on this amply confirms what we already know.
Dr Jeremy Sammut, a research fellow at the Sydney-based Centre for Independent Studies, has recently released a 20-page report, The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sexual Abuse. In it he documents and demonstrates what we have known for some time now: children are more at risk of abuse in broken homes and non-married households.
He says: “Decades of data show that children who are raised in traditional married families do better, on average, in life than children who are raised in divorced or sole-parent families. In other words, family breakdown puts the welfare of children at risk and makes society less equal in areas such as health, education and employment.
“Yet we are reluctant to discuss the links between family type and outcomes for children, especially in relation to child sexual abuse.
“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse is investigating ways to better protect children from abuse in organisations including churches, schools and sporting clubs. This is crucial and overdue work.
“However, the vast majority of child sexual abuse does not occur in organisations. It takes place within the family, and children in certain types of families are at greater risk than others.
“Children, irrespective of socio-economic status, who do not live with both biological parents are far more likely to be sexually abused than their peers in intact families.
“Girls who live in non-traditional families are sexually abused by their ‘stepfathers’ — the married, cohabiting or casual partner of a divorced or single mother — at many times the rate that girls are sexually abused by their biological fathers in intact families” (Centre for Independent Studies, January 31, 2014).
This of course is the elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about. Family structure does matter. Married, heterosexual families have been shown, by many thousands of studies, to be the best environment in which to raise children.
All other structures, be they single-parent families, blended families or homosexual families, are far less safe and helpful to children. The overwhelming forces of political correctness and a derelict mainstream media will seldom discuss these matters. But if we care about our children, then we must.
And if we care about our budget blowouts and mushrooming welfare state, then we should also address the very real financial costs of divorce. If we don’t, we will see even further deterioration and decline as a nation.
No society can long endure with such major social upheavals and problems. We need to act soon.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com
Judith S. Wallerstein, Julia M. Lewis and Sandra Blakeslee, The Unexpected Legacy of Divorce: A 25 Year Landmark Study (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000). ISBN: 9780786863945.
Bill Muehlenberg’s review of Wallerstein, Lewis and Blakeslee, op. cit., at CultureWatch, September 15, 2000.
Kevin Andrews, Maybe ‘I Do’: Modern Marriage and the Pursuit of Happiness (Ballarat, Victoria: Connor Court, 2012). ISBN: 9781922168016.
Jeremy Sammut, The New Silence: Family Breakdown and Child Sex Abuse (Sydney: Centre for Independent Studies, 2014), Issue Analysis, No. 142, January 30, 2014.
Jeremy Sammut, “Family breakdown puts children at risk”, Centre for Independent Studies (Sydney), January 31, 2014.
Lauren Wilson and Lisa Cornish, “Divorce is costing the Australian economy $14 billion a year”, Herald Sun (Melbourne), July 6, 2014.
Wealth of nations depends on health of families
by Patrick Fagan
Love, not rejection, gives strength to a child and a child’s family. For children whose parents have always been married, life is quantitatively better: they have higher grade point averages (GPAs), greater educational attainment, longer and happier lives, and a better chance at marriage.
Rejection between parents weakens children, slows them down, and lowers their potential. Though the extent to which children are affected varies from child to child, as a demographic they get lower grades, receive less education, have poorer mental health, are less employed, are less likely to be happily married, and will live shorter lives.
Even without knowing the family history of employees, employers know the difference between a hardworking, honest, cheerful young employee and one who lacks these qualities, and choose accordingly.
Human resource departments are well aware of the differences between the work ethics of young single men and married men with children. They see the different rates of absenteeism (especially before or after weekends), who is on time to work, and who is accident-prone.
Stockbrokers and life-insurance salesmen know where strength lies too: their biggest markets are married couples, though Wall Street has yet to figure out the macro-economic implications.
Adding all this together, the conclusion (visible in U.S. federal data) is that married families with children are the main source of the higher income, education and productivity that grow the economy and its capital.
Interestingly, and today controversially, chastity — sexual abstinence until marriage and lifelong monogamy thereafter — significantly strengthens marriages and therefore the economy. Research on the pathways to divorce shows this.
Who would ever have thought that chastity is tied to the growth rate of the American economy? Each new sexual partner in the teens and twenties (prior to marriage) notches down the economy in the long run, microscopically at first, but multiplied tens of millions of times, it adds up to serious money over time.
Extract from Patrick Fagan, Public Discourse (Witherspoon Institute, Princeton, New Jersey), February 6, 2013.