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It’s Valentine’s Day and ‘Love is in The Air’ – but many couples in NI are too poor to tie the knot

New paper highlights huge marriage gap between social classes

60 pc of upper professional workers are married but less than a third of unskilled workers

Except for Christmas Day, Valentine’s Day is the most popular date for couples to get engaged.

But many couples in Northern Ireland are just too poor to tie the knot, according to a new report by The Iona Institute.

Entitled ‘Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland’, the report shows that for many of the more socially disadvantaged in Northern Ireland the dream of walking down the aisle will never become a reality.

The figures, derived from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) show that 60.7% of upper professional workers (‘Social Class A’) aged 18-49 are married, compared with just 32.7% of unskilled or elementary workers (‘Social Class I’).

Workers in professional occupations are almost twice as likely as unskilled workers to be married.

The huge discrepancy indicates that there are formidable social impediments to marrying if you are from a socially disadvantaged group. The report also shows that with one exception (plant and machine operatives (‘Social Class H’), the likelihood of being married becomes progressively less as we move down the social scale.

Commenting on the figures, Tracy Harkin of the Iona Institute said: “These impediments need to be fully explored and, where possible, removed. Anyone who believes in the importance of marriage should be deeply concerned about these figures. Why is it that the better off a person is, the more likely they are to be married, and the less well-off they are, the less likely they are to be married? Social disadvantage clearly diminishes a person’s chances of marrying and not marrying in turn increases the odds of remaining socially disadvantaged. It is a vicious circle and it is one that obviously affects children as well.

“A US study* by one of that country’s most esteemed social scientists has shown that if Americans married at the same rate as in 1970, rates of poverty in that country would diminish by between 20% and 30%.”

Tracy continued: “A key factor driving down the odds of marrying for those who are most socially disadvantaged is poorly paid insecure jobs. People are less likely to marry if they feel financially insecure. There are also disincentives to marry built into the social welfare system. It can be more financially advantageous for two people on social welfare to remain single than to marry.

“We ought to be able to agree that the big marriage divide which exists between the social classes is a matter of grave concern, something that must be tackled by our politicians, other policy-makers and opinion-formers.

Tracy Harkin concluded: “This is an issue of justice and of equality and cries out for public debate that will, hopefully, help us all to work to close the marriage gap between the poor and the better off in Northern Ireland”.

* Brooking Institute


Notes to editors

The report entitled “Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland” by The Iona Institute is attached as a pdf.

[PDF Download] Mind the Gap: Marriage and Family by Social Class in Northern Ireland

The report focuses on the age group 18-49 because this is the age group in which people start their families.

The Iona Institute is a Christian advocacy group and research body.

Contact details

Tracy Harkin is available for interview:

Contact Tracy on 0753 1149891