Wealthy people are typically married or in common-law unions, while the poor are mostly unattached, according to a new report from a right-wing advocacy group.
The Institute of Marriage and Family Canada released the report entitled "The Marriage Gap Between Rich and Poor Canadians" yesterday, and recommends that governments and the private sector encourage matrimony.
"Healthy marriages are both a private and a public good," states the policy considerations section of the report. "The economic and social benefits of marriage are good for both individuals and society as a whole."
The institute based its analysis on Statistics Canada data on labour and income dynamics.
According to the group’s findings, in 2011, 86 per cent of the highest income quartile were married or had common-law spouses. In the middle-income quartile, 49 per cent were in such a relationship, while only 12 per cent of the lowest-income quartile were in one.
The study found that the marriage gap widened after 1976 as marriage rates remained high among the wealthier population, but declined among middle- and low-income earners in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, marriage rates have slightly increased among middle- and low-income earners.
The institute says divorce and single parenthood increases poverty for both children and mothers, while married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or couples who live together.
Glen Kruck, local anti-poverty advocate and regional director of the Canadian Mental Health Association, said in many ways the report rings true.
"The number of single parents that we serve in our emergency homeless units would seem to reflect that," Kruck said. "We have definitely seen an increase in regards to single parents with kids."
It’s well-known that one of the biggest stressors in any marriage or relationship is finances, he said, "so it makes sense that the highest stress factor and the lowest income would knock out a lot of unions quite easily and quite quickly."
Kruck added that when the family selection is made for local STEPP homes (Solutions to End Poverty Permanently), they consider whether the family has one or two incomes.
"We do recognize that stability, especially at the low-income level, for getting into the housing market," he said. "You do need that stability in case there’s a hiccup, somebody loses their job, sort of idea."
The report recommends greater economic support for families, including expanded tax credits. It also suggests a public education campaign, similar to anti-smoking initiatives, that would encourage young people to pursue education and postpone childbearing in order to better the chances of successful unions.
Marriage is not a silver bullet for social problems, the study says, but it asserts that healthy marriages promote economic and social well-being both privately and publicly.
Coun. Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres), who is a member of the city’s poverty committee, said the IMFC report is missing points in what is a very complex issue.
"I disagree with the report that suggests that one of the solutions to eradicating poverty is to be or get married," she said. "I’m not advocating to shun the constitution of marriage. The true solution to stop poverty, is for policy-makers and business leaders to recognize that the working poor, single or married, need a living wage, and more affordable food and shelter."
Chaboyer said in a country as wealthy as Canada, there are enough resources that "every Canadian should have a reasonable income and the choice on whether to be married or not."
The high cost and lack of flexibility with daycare puts pressure on single parents, who are mainly women, she added, making it challenging to find meaningful full-time employment.
The number of couples choosing to remain common-law spouses, rather than get married, has also increased, according to the report. Common-law relationships are more prevalent among younger Canadians.
One reason people may not be taking the plunge, is the cost of a wedding. According to Canadian Living, the average wedding rings in at $20,000 to $30,000.
» firstname.lastname@example.org, with files from The Canadian Press