Before the 2010 election, the Conservative party pledged to recognise marriage in the tax system if should be successful, a pledge that has been repeated on a number of occasions since. But is the law capable of promoting marriage by economic incentives? An examination of the impact of one simple measure might suggest that it can: the calculation of the married man's tax allowance had a significant impact on the timing of weddings in earlier decades. But would such incentives have the same effect today? It is easier for policies to influence individual behaviour where they are consistent with general trends. Fiscal incentives to marry may contribute to a package of benefits enjoyed by married couples; they are less likely to be successful when operating in isolation. In any case, recent surveys of couples' reasons for marrying suggest a rejection of pragmatism that might make obvious incentives counter-productive. If the aim of the proposals is to encourage more couples to marry, it might be easier, cheaper, and possibly more effective to collect and publish more accurate statistics on the number of couples who marry each year.
The full version of this article appears in the March 2013 issue of Family Law.