Why It Matters

Why Marriage Matters for Children
Why Marriage Matters for Adults


Why Marriage Matters for Children
by Glenn T. Stanton

Does your marriage really matter to your children? Research says it does!

When society debates what children need to grow into healthy, happy, productive, well-adjusted adults, many things are listed as essentials: access to healthcare, nutrition, good schools, safe neighborhoods, love and plenty of encouragement. All of these are important to proper child-development, but the discussion often ignores the one factor that is prior to all these others: marital status of parents.

All things being equal, children with married parents consistently do better in every measure of well-being than their peers who have single, cohabiting, divorced or step-parents, and this is a stronger indicator than parental race, economic or educational status, or neighborhood. The literature on this is broad and strong.

Pitirim Sorokin, founder and first chair of the Sociology Department at Harvard, proclaimed the importance of married parents some fifty years ago.

The most essential sociocultural patterning of a newborn human organism is achieved by the family. It is the first and most efficient sculptor of human material, shaping the physical, behavioral, mental, moral and sociocultural characteristics of practically every individual. …From remotest past, married parents have been the most effective teachers of their children.

The liberal Center for Law and Social Policy, a child advocacy organization, recently reported “Most researchers now agree that…studies support the notion that, on average, children do best when raised by their two married biological parents…”

Child Trends also reports “An extensive body of research tells us that children do best when they grow up with both biological parents…”

Educational Attainment
Sara McLanahan of Princeton University finds that “regardless of which survey we looked at, children from one-parent families are about twice as likely to drop out of school as children from two-parent families.”4

Children from biological two-parent families have, on average, test scores and grade-point averages that are higher, they miss fewer school days, and have greater expectations of attending college than children living with one parent. Additionally, of those from either type of family who do attend college, those from two-parent families are seven to 20 percent more likely to finish college.5

Children from divorced homes are 70 percent more likely than those living with biological parents to be expelled or suspended from school. Those living with never-married mothers are twice as likely to be expelled or suspended. Also, children who do not live with both biological parents are 45 to 95 percent more likely to require parent/teacher meetings to deal with performance or behavior problems than those who live with married parents.6


Young men without married parents are 1.5 times more likely than those with married parents to be out of school and out of work. Young girls without married parents are twice as likely to be idle.7


In A General Theory on Crime, we learn,

“Such family measures as the percentages of the population divorced, the percentages of households headed by women, and the percentage of unattached individuals in the community are among the most powerful predictors of crime rates.”

The Progressive Policy Institute, the research arm of the Democratic Leadership Council, reports that the “relationship between crime and one-parent families” is “so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low-income and crime. This conclusion shows up time and again in the literature.”

Premarital Sexual Activity and Illegitimate Childbearing
A major study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family found that boys and girls who lived with both biological parents had the lowest risk of becoming sexually active. Teens living with only one biological parent, including those in stepfamilies, were particularly at risk for becoming sexually active at younger ages.

Sara McLanahan found that white and black girls growing up in single-parent homes are 111 percent more likely to bear children as teenagers, 164 percent more likely to have a child out of marriage, and – if they do marry – their marriages are 92 percent more likely to dissolve compared to their counterparts with married parents.

Historically, poverty has been a result of unemployment and low wages. Today, it is primarily a result of family structure. David Ellwood, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, notes:

The vast majority of children who are raised entirely in a two-parent home will never be poor during childhood. By contrast, the vast majority of children who spend time in a single-parent home will experience poverty.

The Progressive Policy Institute declares, “It is no exaggeration to say that a stable, two-parent family is an American child’s best protection against poverty.” In fact, Former Clinton domestic policy advisor Bill Galston explains that avoiding family poverty requires three things: 1) finish high-school, 2) marry before having children and 3) marry after the age of 20. Only 8 percent of families who do this are poor, while 79 percent of those who fail to do this are poor. Children from married homes are more likely to do all of these things, and therefore not likely to raise children who are also in poverty. Marriage breaks the vicious poverty cycle that traps children.

Physical Health and Mental Well-Being
Two leading scholars on the impact of family configuration upon child health find that single mothers report poorer overall physical health for their children than do mothers in intact marriages, regardless of racial or ethnic status.

The National Center for Health Statistics found that children living with their biological parents received professional help for behavior and psychological problems at half the rate of children not living with both biological parents. Other studies show the general health problems of children from broken homes is increased by 20 to 30 percent, even when adjusting for demographic variables.

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a leading authority on the long-term effects of divorce on children, found that serious emotional and relational problems follow children of divorce throughout adolescence into adulthood. In fact, in some important measures, the negative affects of parental divorce grow worse as the child enters adulthood. Dr. Nicholas Zill, writing in the Journal of Family Psychology, agrees, finding that children of divorce showed “high levels of emotional distress, or problem behavior, [and were more likely] to have received psychological help.” Many same-sex homes are created as a result of a homosexual parent leaving an existing marriage via divorce. Destroying a marriage to start another one may be desirable for a parent, but it hurts children deeply.

Substance Abuse
Regardless of gender, age, family income, race or ethnicity, adolescents not living with a biological mother or father are 50 to 150% more likely to abuse and be dependent on substances and need illicit drug-abuse treatment compared to their peers living with both biological parents.

The same study reported that females in “mother-only” families are 1.9 times more likely to use alcohol as girls living with both mother and father. Males in “mother-only” families are 1.5 times more likely to use alcohol than teen males living in mother/father families.

Physical and Sexual Abuse
The journal Pediatrics reported in 2002 that, “Children residing in households with adults unrelated to them were 8 times more likely to die of maltreatment than children in households with 2 biological parents. Risk of maltreatment death was elevated for children residing with step, foster, or adoptive parents.” It is critical to note that it is impossible for a child living in a same-sex parented family to live with both biological parents. It should deeply concern us that that child will be living in one of these family forms that increases risk of death by maltreatment.

Research published in the journal Child Abuse and Neglect found that a girl is seven times more likely to be molested by a stepfather than a biological father. The study goes on to report that when biological fathers did molest their young daughters, a mother was not residing in the home who could protect the child. What is more, the nature of sexual abuse by stepfathers was more severe than by biological fathers. Every little boy in a male same-sex home will be living with at least one non-biological father as well as with a biological father without a protective mother present. The research says this child will be in much greater danger than a boy or girl living with a married mother and father.

Another study published in the same journal reports that children living with a single biological parent is nearly twice as likely to be sexually abused compared with a child living with a married mother and father.

Marriage is a rich personal resource for children and their parents. It protects them from poverty and sexual and physical abuse. It improves their physical and mental health. It helps them do better in every measure of educational development and ultimately go to college. It helps them stay away from violent, criminal and sexual behaviors. Marriage protects kids from substance abuse. This means teachers are not burdened with children who cause problems or have difficulty learning. Marriage protects our welfare systems by reducing the number of young adults who have dropped out of school and not working or who are having children in their teen years. Police being bothered by kids with married parents is rare. Marriage produces healthier children who do not stress our nation's medical system and insurance costs.

If we are to concern ourselves with the welfare of children, we have to be concerned with the health of marriage in our culture. For, as marriage goes, so go our children – and with them – the future of humanity.

Glenn T. Stanton is Director of Social Research and Cultural Affairs and Senior Analyst for Marriage and Sexuality at Focus on the Family. He is also author of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society (Pinon Press), and more recently, My Crazy, Imperfect Christian Family (NavPress, 2004). He also co-authored the book, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).


Why Marriage Matters for Adults
by Glenn T. Stanton

Is marriage an old-fashioned, outmoded institution? Is it merely a piece of paper, having no real impact on our lives?

Researchers are finding that marriage has a much greater impact in our lives than many have assumed. This is especially true in the area of adult health and well-being. Sociologist Linda Waite and researcher Maggie Gallagher explain, “The evidence from four decades of research is surprisingly clear: a good marriage is both men’s and women’s best bet for living a long and healthy life.” Men and women who are in their first marriages, on average, enjoy significantly higher levels of physical and mental health than those who are either single, divorced or living together. The research on this is very strong.

Leading social scientist, James Q. Wilson, explains:

“Married people are happier than unmarried ones of the same age, not only in the United States, but in at least seventeen other countries where similar inquiries have been made. And there seems to be good reasons for that happiness. People who are married not only have higher incomes and enjoy greater emotional support, they tend to be healthier. Married people live longer than unmarried ones, not only in the United States but abroad.”

Research conducted at the University of Massachusetts concludes,

“One of the most consistent observations in health research is that the married enjoy better health than those of other [relational] statuses.”

Dr. Robert Coombs of UCLA reviewed more than 130 empirical studies published in this century on how marriage impacts well-being. He found that these studies indicate “an intimate link between marital status and personal well-being.”

Coombs, in his review, found that 70 percent of chronic problem drinkers were either divorced or separated, and only 15 percent were married. Single men are more than three times as likely to die of cirrhosis of the liver.

Long and Healthy Life
Unmarried people spend twice as much time as patients in hospitals as their married peers and have lower activity levels.

Research conducted at Erasmus University in Rotterdam reports that “married people have the lowest morbidity [illness] rates, while the divorced show the highest.” Professor Linda Waite of the University of Chicago finds that the “relationship between marriage and death rates has now reached the status of a truism, having been observed across numerous societies and among various social and demographic groups.”

In Waites’ 1995 presidential address to the Population Association of America, she explained that the health benefits of marriage are so strong that a married man with heart disease can be expected to live, on average, 1400 days longer (nearly four years!) than an unmarried man with a healthy heart. This longer life expectancy is even greater for a married man who has cancer or is 20 pounds overweight compared to his healthy, but unmarried, counterpart. The advantages for women are similar. Additional research from Yale University indicates that a married man who smokes more than a pack a day can be expected to live as long as a divorced man who does not smoke. This researcher explains with a touch of humor, “If a man’s marriage is driving him to heavy smoking, he has a delicate statistical decision to make.”

Dr. Coombs’ research agrees with these findings: “Virtually every study of mortality and marital status shows the unmarried of both sexes have higher death rates, whether by accident, disease, or self-inflicted wounds, and this is found in every country that maintains accurate health statistics.”

Research published in JAMA finds that cures for cancer are significantly more successful (eight to 17 percent) when a patient is married and being married was comparable to being in an age category 10 years younger.

Mental Health
Research dating back to 1936 shows that first-time psychiatric admission rates for males suffering from schizophrenia were 5.4 times greater for unmarried men than for married men. Dr. Benjamin Malzberg, the author of this study, concludes, “The evidence seems clear that the married population had, in general, much lower rates of mental disease than any of the other marital groups.”

More recent research conducted jointly at Yale University and UCLA reports:

One of the most consistent findings in psychiatric epidemiology is that married persons enjoy better health than the unmarried. Researchers have consistently found the highest rates of mental disorder among the divorced and separated, the lowest rates among the married and intermediate rates among the single and widowed. They also found that a cohabiting partner could not replicate these benefits of marriage.

General Happiness
A study published in the Journal of Marriage and the Family examined the link between personal happiness and marital status in 17 industrialized nations that had “diverse social and institutional frameworks.” This study found:

“married persons have a significantly higher level of happiness than persons who are not married. This effect was independent of financial and heath-oriented protections offered by marriage and was also independent of other control variables including ones for sociodemographic conditions and national character.”

Increased levels of happiness among the married was found in other studies as well.

Additional research shows that marriage:

  • Provides the highest levels of sexual pleasure and fulfillment for men and women
  • Protects against feelings of loneliness
  • Protects women from domestic and general violence
  • Enhances a parent’s ability to parent
  • Helps create better, more reliable employees
  • Increases individual earnings and savings

Research conducted at the University of Colorado indicates why marriage is so beneficial to adults:

Generally, compared with those who are not married, married individuals eat better, take better care of themselves, and live a more stable, secure and scheduled lifestyle.

Clearly, married men and women provide better things for society than their unmarried peers. Husbands and wives are not as likely to be a burden to the health care system or be a drain on a company’s health insurance benefits because of their better health and increased ability to recover from illness quicker and more successfully. They are less likely to miss work because of illness. They are not likely to jump from job to job. They are less likely to suffer from alcoholism and other substance abuse and less likely to engage in other risk behaviors. Married women are significantly less likely to be victims of any kind of violence, either by her spouse or by a stranger. They are less lonely and happier. Happier people make better citizens, employees and neighbors. Married people earn and invest more money. They report enjoying the job of parenting better and they are more successful at it. This mountain of social science research tells us marriage is a serious and valuable community treasure.

Glenn T. Stanton is Director of Social Research and Cultural Affairs and Senior Analyst for Marriage and Sexuality at Focus on the Family. He is also author of Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in Marriage in Postmodern Society (Pinon Press), and more recently, My Crazy, Imperfect Christian Family (NavPress, 2004). He also co-authored the book, Marriage on Trial: The Case Against Same-Sex Marriage and Parenting (Inter-Varsity Press, 2004).

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