Marriage no longer possesses the cultural status or primacy as a gateway to family formation that it once had, since sex, childbearing and cohabitation outside of marriage now widely occur.Indeed: though the authors do acknowledge that marriage is more popular than it was ten years ago. Still, we must keep up with the times, as the authors explain:
It is now common to speak of partnership rather than marriage as the generic term for long-term intimate sexual relationships. At one level, this new term reflects the growing incidence of such relationships in various forms of cohabitation outside of marriage, but it also reflects an emphasis on the ideals of partnership rather than the external formalities of marriage as the core of intimate human relationships.Strange, because most of the people I know in 'long-term intimate sexual relationships' actually prefer to speak of marriage rather than partnership: considering partnership to be something lawyers and accountants do to each other (I don't mean ... well you know what I mean). I think the implied 'common' in the authors' observations refers to academics and PC-paranoid politicians and policy makers rather than to, say, the rest of the human race.
The partnership banalities continue through to the discussion of cohabitation. This is treated as if it is a widespread alternative to marriage by the authors (and numerous others) when it fact it is simply a stage before marriage for the majority of couples. The authors provide proof for this themselves in Table 2.1 of the report on page 19 which shows a fourfold increase in the number of cohabiting couples between 1996 and 2006 alongside a substantial increase in the percentage of such couples without children (from 59% to 64%). Hardly evidence of 'an emphasis on the ideals of partnership rather than the external formalities of marriage.'
In my experience people have a lot more common sense about family life than academics (and clergy for that matter) often give them credit for. A recent report by the European Commission on Family Life & the Needs of an Ageing Population (pdf) gives a fascinating insight into how people view their own daily experiences of family life throughout the EU. And the good news is that the family is in robust good shape in Ireland in 2008:
- 71% of Irish people are very satisfied with their family life (EU27 = 52%), joint second highest with the Netherlands (Denmark highest at 75%).
- Irish people see the high cost of housing (43%) and of raising children (37%) as the two main difficulties facing families nowadays.
- The majority (59%) consider it fairly or very easy to combine work and family life (EU27=41%).
- The most popular arrangement for combining work and childcare is for one parent to work full time and the other part time (45%), followed by one working full time and the other looking after the children full time (34%).
- In terms of pre-school children, the optimum caring arrangement is deemed to be a public or private creche (66%) followed by childcare by the mother (49%), n.b.: multiple choices possible.
- The majority of Irish people (50.1%) are living in households comprising married or cohabiting couple with one or more dependent children - the second highest percentage in Europe after Malta (54%) - EU27% average = 39%.
- The Irish have the highest proportion of adults sharing a household with a child under 6 years of age (21%) in the EU, and the 2nd highest sharing a household with a child aged 6-15 (25%).