Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Happily Ever After...?

According to a recent survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics, fewer British couples get married today than they did in 1895, and 1.66 million children are brought up either by unmarried couples or a single parent.

Predictably, the Daily Telegraph published these statistics under the headline “The Death of the Traditional Family”. Inevitably, knees jerked wildly all over the letters page the following day, while the spasms reached fever pitch in the online comments box. Telegraph readers blamed the ‘state of the nation’ on feminists, lefties, the benefits system and “dirty immigrants”. Ho hum, here we go: “put birth control in the water supply - no antidote without proof of assets and a British marriage certificate!” was one typical response. “Perhaps the Catholic Church and other religious bodies which believe in the family could ask politicians not to recognise children who are the by-product of marriages conducted under the state’s auspices OR OUTSIDE OF THIS COUNTRY!”, ranted another. “Get rid of the man-haters who have been running 'Child Protection' agencies and advising the government on social policy!”, spewed yet another bright spark (adding “they’re the ones who secretely [sic] give children contraceptives and love watching girls have abortions” just for good measure). So far, so stereotypical. Personally, I don’t give a toss if children are raised by a commune of transgendered Star Wars fans as long as they’re given a violence-free upbringing, a good education and decent food. What worries me is a far more sinister element of modern life, also unearthed by the survey but largely overlooked by those who either conducted it or so publicly responded to it.

In 2008, 29% of men under the age of 34 still lived with their parents (52% of these in the 20-24 age group). The ONS survey analysts went to great lengths to explain that men have delayed ‘setting up on their own’ because there’s been a substantial increase in those choosing to remain in education, while the cost of living has risen drastically; as a result, almost a third of them still live with mummy. Meanwhile, the vast majority of women (79% of those aged over 21, according to the survey) have flown the nest - but not, as the knee-jerkers will blindly assume, to live ‘the single life’ on state benefits in a council house with five illegitimate children. Single women aged 22-30 are nine times more likely than men to either live in privately rented accommodation or their own property. And yet, women account for over 55% of university places, while another Great British Tradition dictates that they still earn 17% less, on average, than men of the same age. How did the survey analysts account for the fact that women manage where men can’t cope? They didn’t. Because the real reason so many men live the Timothy Lumsden lifestyle has less to do with the credit crunch (or feminists, lefties, immigrants, etc) than a general inability to grow up. If you’re a man who lives at home, you’ve got more pocket money to spend on boy toys such as iPhones, iPods and XBoxes than your boring, grown up mates have. You don’t have to share the TV or computer in your bedroom with anybody else and, after she’s done your washing, mum might bring you a cup of tea in bed...which you can drink while reading dad’s Telegraph, after he’s gone off to work.

The ‘traditional nuclear family’ may be in decline, but men can’t be decent daddies when they still need their own, doting mummies so badly. You can bet a Masters degree in social history that, when children are on the agenda, women aren’t going to consider a 34 year old toddler for the role of father - and that’s a situation that’s going to have more of an influence on the future of ‘family life’ than immigration figures ever will.

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