My two daughters were discussing divorce and separation among the parents of the children they know at their school. I asked them how many children at school could they think of whose parents were divorced. After consideration, they came up with four. That is probably out of about 25 children who my older daughter knows well in year six, say another 10 in year five, perhaps another 30 in year three (where my younger daughter is) and another 20 in other years. So a total of about 85. It is, of course, possible that there are some divorced parents they did not know about. But it seems probably that not much more than five per cent of the children have divorced or separated parents.
What has this got to do with the welfare state?
One of the claims I make in The Welfare State We’re In is that the welfare state has reduced the natural incentives for married couples to stay together.
I attempt to substantiate this by citing figures suggesting that divorce and separation is far more common among the poor – the ones most affection by welfare benefits – than among the rich – who are not entitled to most benefits and therefore are not influenced by them.
One of the difficulties I encountered was that the research tended to be pretty old. This is one of several things that the government does not measure because, one suspects, it does not want to know the answer.
The low divorce rate among the relatively rich parents at my daughters’ private school does not constitute heavyweight, serious evidence such as I would quote in a book. But it is nonetheless supportive, anecdotal evidence that the rich don’t divorce as much as the poor. The poor are the ones whose judgements have been interfered with by the welfare state. Their children are the ones who suffer most from ‘broken parenting’.