Cara Usher-Smith

Why Britain needs more marriage

Hungary is something of a bête noire in the international community. Viktor Orban and his government have had much-deserved condemnation over their treatment of certain minority groups, as well as undermining judicial independence and what many see as an attack on the freedom of the media. 

But Orban’s administration has been getting something right, and it would be a shame if the country’s pariah status means its greatest achievement goes overlooked. Hungary has become a marriage super-power.

According to the Marriage Foundation, which rightly promotes legal matrimony as the bedrock of a healthy society, Hungary’s marriage rate has exploded over the last decade, rising by 92 per cent. The country moved from 28th in Europe to number one in the Foundation’s league table. In the same period marriage rates in the UK fell by 16 per cent between 2010 and 2019, and our ranking has slipped from 17th in Europe to a dismal 25th. 

Since 2010, Hungary has implemented policies to encourage more children to be born, and in particular to be born to married parents, including through offering government-backed subsidies to married couples. For example, newlyweds can access significant government loans while also receiving a small reduction in income tax for the first few years after their wedding. But it is more than just money, Hungarian politicians are unashamed about promoting the cultural value of marriage and the benefits it brings.

The results speak for themselves. According to the OECD, in Hungary births outside of marriage have fallen from 41 per cent in 2010 to 30 per cent in 2021. Marriage rates almost doubled and the divorce rate has plunged by 37 per cent over the same period. I am not, I stress, suggesting that we adopt these specific policies like for like. But Hungary’s example unquestionably sheds light on the powerful effect of financial incentives and political support for marriage.

Hungary’s policies send a message from the government that marriage matters and is valued, which helps create a culture that encourages people to make that commitment.

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