Family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates is costing New Zealand taxpayers at least $1 billion a year, according to new research.

Prepared by the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER), the research was commissioned by Family First NZ.

“The study shows that the decline of marriage, New Zealand’s high teenage fertility rate, and our rate of solo parenthood is not just a moral or social concern but should also be a concern of government and policymakers,” said Family First NZ national director Bob McCoskrie.

“The report states that even a small reduction in family breakdown and increases in marriage rates could provide significant savings for taxpayers.”

McCoskrie said the study showed that family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates were seldom considered in debate on social policy issues.

“The focus has been on `child poverty’ but this misses the real issue — that is, poverty among families with children, and the way that divorce, unwed childbearing, teenage pregnancy and sole parenting contributes to that poverty,” he said.

“For example, sole parents have the lowest average living standards of all economic family unit types.”

The report also referred to international research which suggested that the private costs of divorce and unmarried childbearing included increased risks of poverty, mental illness, infant mortality, physical illness, juvenile delinquency and adult criminality, sexual abuse and other forms of family violence, economic hardship, substance abuse, and educational failure.

“It is significant that this report comes during an election period where the issue of family breakdown and decreasing marriage rates is barely registering a mention or a policy,” McCoskrie said.

“Yet this report makes it quite clear that strengthening marriage and reducing family breakdown is a significant public concern, both in human costs and economically.”

The report suggested the use of a range of programmes and services to reduce unwed pregnancy among teen mothers and to help prepare couples for and support them during marriage.