NEW YORK–Marriage is good for your health, wealth and happiness, according to a panel of social scientists.
The team of family scholars collaborated to survey a vast body of research on marriage and family issues and summarize it in a document titled “Why Marriage Matters.”
The project was sponsored by the Center of the American Experiment, the Coalition for Marriage, Family and Couples Education, and the Institute for American Values. Lead researchers included Norval Glenn of the University of Texas, Steven Nock of the University of Virginia and Linda Waite of the University of Chicago.
“Marriage is more than a private emotional relationship. It is also a social good,” the researchers note. “Not every person can or should marry. And not every child raised outside of marriage is damaged as a result. But communities where good-enough marriages are common have better outcomes for children, women and men than do communities suffering from high rates of divorce, unmarried childbearing and high-conflict or violent marriages.”
From two decades of research, the authors culled 21 key points. Among them:
- Marriage increases the likelihood that fathers have good relationships with their children.
“Mothers as well as fathers are affected by the absence of marriage,” the study states. “Single mothers on average report more conflict with and less monitoring of their children than do married mothers. … But children’s relationships with their fathers are at even greater risk. Sixty-five percent of young adults whose parents divorced had poor relationships with their fathers (compared to 29 percent from non-divorced families).”
- Cohabitation is not the functional equivalent of marriage.
“As a group, cohabitors in the United States more closely resemble singles than married people,” the report explains. “Children with cohabiting parents have outcomes more similar to the children living with single (or remarried) parents than children from intact marriages. … Couples who live together also, on average, report relationships of lower quality than do married couples–with cohabitors reporting more conflict, more violence and lower levels of satisfaction and commitment.”
- Growing up outside an intact marriage increases the likelihood that children will themselves divorce or become unwed parents.
On this point, the researchers cite a litany of warnings: “Children whose parents divorce or fail to marry are more likely to become young unwed parents, to divorce themselves and to have unhappy marriages and/or relationships. Daughters raised outside of intact marriages are approximately three times more likely to end up young, unwed mothers than are children whose parents married and stayed married. Parental divorce approximately doubles the odds that adult children will also divorce.”
- Divorce and unmarried childbearing increase poverty for both children and mothers.
“The effects of family structure on poverty remain powerful, even after controlling for race and family background,” the report summarizes. “Changes in family structure are an important cause of new entries into poverty … . Child poverty rates are very high primarily because of the growth of single-parent families. When parents fail to marry and stay married, children are more likely to experience deep and persistent poverty, even after controlling for race and family background.”
- Married couples seem to build more wealth on average than singles or cohabiting couples.
“The economic advantages of marriage stem from more than just access to two incomes,” the researchers explain. “Marriage partners appear to build more wealth for some of the same reasons that partnerships in general are economically efficient, including economies of scale and specialization and exchange.”
- Married men earn more money than do single men with similar education and job histories.
“A large body of research, both in the United States and other developed countries, finds that married men earn between 10 and 40 percent more than do single men with similar education and job histories. … The causes are not entirely understood, but married men appear to have greater work commitment, lower quit rates, and healthier and more stable personal routines (including sleep, diet and alcohol consumption).”
- Parental divorce (or failure to marry) appears to increase children’s risk of school failure.
“Children of divorced or unwed parents have lower grades and other measures of academic achievement, are more likely to be held back and are more likely to drop out of high school,” the study notes. “Children whose parents divorce end up with significantly lower levels of education than do children in single-mother families created by the death of the father. Children whose parents remarry do no better, on average, than do children who live with single mothers.”
- Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.
“Longitudinal research suggests that parental divorce increases the incidence of health problems in children,” the study explains. “The health advantages of married homes remain, even after taking socioeconomic status into account. The health disadvantages associated with being raised outside of intact marriages persist long into adulthood.”
- Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teens.
“Young adults who marry tend to reduce their rates of alcohol consumption and illegal drug use. Children whose parents marry and stay married also have lower rates of substance abuse, even after controlling for family background.”
- Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than do otherwise similar singles.
“In most developed countries, middle-aged single, divorced or widowed men are about twice as likely to die as married men, and non-married women face risks about one and a half times as great as those faced by married women.”
- Marriage is associated with better health and lower rates of injury, illness and disability for both men and women.
“Married people appear to manage illness better, monitor each other’s health, have higher incomes and wealth and adopt healthier lifestyles than do otherwise similar singles,” the researchers explain.
- Children whose parents divorce have higher rates of psychological distress and mental illness.
“Divorce typically causes children considerable emotional distress and increases the risk of serious mental illness,” the study details. “These mental health risks do not dissipate soon after the divorce. Instead, children of divorce remain at higher risk for depression and other mental illness, in part because of reduced education attainment, increased risk of divorce, marital problems and economic hardship.”
- Divorce appears significantly to increase the risk of suicide.
“Divorced men and women are more than twice as likely as their married counterparts to attempt suicide. … In the last half-century, suicide rates among teens and young adults have tripled. The single ‘most important explanatory variable,’ according to one new study, ‘is the increased share of youths living in homes with a divorced parent.'”
- Boys raised in single-parent families are more likely to engage in delinquent and criminal behavior.
“Teens in one-parent families are on average less attached to their parents’ opinions and more attached to their peer groups. Combined with lower levels of parental supervision, these attitudes appear to set the stage for delinquent behavior,” the researchers report, adding boys raised in single-parent homes are about twice as likely as other boys to be incarcerated by their early 30s.
- Married women appear to have a lower risk of experiencing domestic violence than do cohabiting or dating women.
“While young women must recognize that marriage is not a good strategy for reforming violent men, a large body of research shows that being unmarried, and especially living with a man outside of marriage, is associated with an increased risk of domestic abuse,” the study explains. “Overall, as one scholar sums up the relevant research, ‘Regardless of methodology, the studies yielded similar results: Cohabitors engage in more violence than do spouses.'”
- A child who is not living with his or her own two married parents is at greater risk of child abuse.
“Children living with single mothers, stepfathers or mother’s boyfriends are more likely to become victims of child abuse. Children living in single-mother homes have increased rates of death from intentional injuries. As Martin Daly and Margo Wilson report, ‘Living with a stepparent has turned out to be the most powerful predictor of severe child abuse yet.'”
The complete report, “Why Marriage Matters,” is available at www.americanvalues.org.
Mark Wingfield is managing editor of the Baptist Standard, from which this article was reprinted with permission.
Executive director and publisher of Baptist News Global and the author of Why Churches Need to Talk About Sexuality.