Couples who get married before having children are more than 70 per cent more likely to stay together than those who do so after, new research claims.
Meanwhile those who start a family but never marry are almost three times as likely to split up before their children are in their mid-teens, the study by the Marriage Foundation think-tank concludes.
It claimed that other factors often linked to family stability, such as parents’ ages when they have children, and education, were not of great consequence.
For example, among women who married before their first child, 82 per cent with a degree stayed together, only marginally above the 74 per cent of non-degree educated women.
The research, by Harry Benson, research director of Marriage Foundation with analysis by Stephen McKay, a professor in social research at Lincoln University, used the latest data from Understanding Society, a UK longitudinal study that regularly surveys 40,000 households.
Mr Benson said: “This is really exciting new research which shows that education and age do not dictate the success of relationships as was previously thought.
“It barely seems to matter if women are younger or older, degree educated or not; so long as they make a plan for their future and marry before starting a family, they have a really good chance of making that relationship last.”
Sir Paul Coleridge, the former High Court family judge who set up the foundation in 2012, said the study showed that it is a “myth” that cohabitation is as stable as marriage.
The group is pressing for political parties to adopt policies specifically promoting marriage in their manifestos ahead of the General Election in May.
Sir Paul said: “Governments cannot legislate directly for stronger families but they can foster the right environment and so make a real difference.
“They spend £47 billion a year on family breakdown, mostly due to the increased tax credits and benefits awarded to single parents, and even more on the increased rates of truancy, juvenile delinquency and crime among people from broken homes.
“It is therefore firmly in the Government’s interests, as well as individuals’, to tackle the worrying rise in family instability in the UK.”