Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 22, 2008
Family breakdown carries a heavy cost
Canadian taxpayers foot a $7B a year bill for broken families
CANADIAN CATHOLIC NEWS
OTTAWA - A new study reveals family breakdown costs Canadians almost $7 billion a year in welfare payments, housing allowances and daycare subsidies.
Published by the Institute of Marriage and Family Canada (IMFC), Private Choices, Public Costs: How Failing Families Cost Us All says if family breakdown were halved, $1.78 billion could be saved and an estimated 50,000 adults and 80,000 children would no longer need welfare.
"This is a report that says family is important, that marriage is an important protector against poverty, and when we don't value either - we all pay, quite literally," said IMFC communications and research director Andrea Mrozek, co-author of Private Choices, Public Costs.
The report says long-term poverty eradication plans need to include support for marriage and family because of the stability they provide children.
Family breakdown results when society "gives up on the idea of a man and woman marrying, raising children together and staying together to watch their grandchildren grow," Mrozek said at a gathering of parliamentarians and social policy advocates in Ottawa earlier this month.
COMMUNITY AND TRUST
The report's authors also focused on how family breakdown erodes social capital.
"This is harder to measure but intuitively we can understand that stable families enhance the underlying sense of community and trust that makes neighbourhoods safer, strangers friendlier, and civic life richer and more resilient," said co-author Rebecca Walberg.
"This report is largely focused on providing factual information to help Canadians make healthy choices in their private lives," said Walberg, who works with the Winnipeg-based Wakefield Centre for Policy Research.
The report recommends marriage education in high schools to equip students with the best evidence of what makes a stable, happy family to guide them in their choices.
"We currently educate teens about the psychological and physical implications of sexual activity and bullying," she said.
Teens are also advised about the importance of obtaining a high school diploma and the relationship lack of education has to poverty, she said.
"We need to place equal importance on family formation throughout our culture and educating the next generation is a great place to start."
Other recommendations include: family taxation that would allow couples to file jointly - also known as income splitting. "This attaches a financial incentive to maintaining a healthy family," Walberg said.
Family breakdown is not only one act like divorce or the break up of a cohabitating couple with children, Mrozek said. It includes single parents who have never been married or never lived with the fathers or mothers of their children.
The report shows single-parenthood and living common law is increasing in Canada. Yet it also cites social sciences research that shows these kinds of family structures are less stable.
Children of married parents do better on a range of outcomes: they are less likely to use drugs, to drop out of school or postpone early sexual activity, Mrozek said.
Chronic poverty is linked to single parenthood, she said, not only in Canada, but worldwide.
In the United Kingdom, family breakdown and decades of social policy that has made the problem worse has led to children being raised in homes "where they have never seen a working adult or a functioning marriage."
PATHWAYS TO POVERTY
Mrozek stressed, however, that family breakdown was one of several "pathways" to poverty. Those paths include "educational failure, economic dependency and unemployment, serious personal indebtedness and addiction."
The report, she said, is not judgmental or finger-pointing, nor does it advocate big government intervention or social engineering.
In 2006, roughly one child in four lives in a lone parent household in Canada, she said.
The study shows single-parent households headed by women were the most likely to be dependent on government transfers such as welfare or public housing. Lone parent families headed by men were the next most dependent.
Two-parent families were the least likely to be living below the poverty line. Married parent families remain the norm at 68.6 per cent across Canada. But Quebec's rate of marriage is much lower, at only 54.5 per cent.
Common law partnerships are much more common in Quebec, at 28.8 per cent, while in the rest of Canada, they are only 11.7 per cent of families.
The authors say cohabiting couples with children are five times more likely to break up than married couples.