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Irish Times poll on sex and society

Press release by The Iona Institute 

September 15th, 2010 

Irish Times poll on sex and society: public mistaken about cohabitation. It makes marriage less stable 

Sept 15, 2010 – A new poll in The Irish Times today finds that 57pc of the public believe that cohabitation before marriage results in more stable marriages. However, the facts show the opposite, namely that couples who live together before they marry are a third more likely to divorce than those who don’t live together first. (See note one below).

In no society has increased cohabitation been associated with lower divorce and separation, and Ireland is no different. Cohabitation and marriage breakdown have both increased together rapidly. (See note two).

In addition, increased cohabitation is associated with greater relationship instability generally and is especially bad for children as cohabiting parents are much more likely to separate than married parents. (See note three).

Commenting on the poll findings Iona Institute director David Quinn said: “The fact that a majority of people believe something that is actually the opposite of the truth is deeply worrying. If people believe that living together first will lead to more stable marriages, then cohabitation is only going to increase and so will later marriage breakdown as cohabitation is associated with higher levels of divorce.”

He continued: “The finding is also bad news for children because divorce and separation tend to be bad for children.”

Commenting on the general findings of the poll he said: “The poll certainly does show that the attitude of Irish people towards sex and relationships is becoming more liberal. However, this growing liberalisation is closely associated with growing family breakdown, which is also very bad for children. In the last 20 years, marriage breakdown has increased fivefold and more than one in four children are now being raised without the benefit of a married mother and father.”


Notes to Editors 


  1. This figure is taken from ‘Vital Health and Statistics’ Series 23, Number 22, July 2002 published by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
  2. According to Irish Census data, 40,000 Irish people had suffered a broken marriage in 1986. This had increased to 200,000 by 2006. Cohabitation has increased four-fold since 1996 and accounts for 121,000 couples.
  3. According to the British Millennium Cohort Study, only 35pc of children born into a cohabiting union will live with both parents throughout their childhood compared with 70pc born to both parents.
  4. The Iona Institute is a pro-marriage, pro-religion organisation.



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