Social scientists are discovering what Christians have known all along: communities where successful marriages are common result in better outcomes for children, men, and women than communities with high divorce rates.
According to the report, Why Marriage Matters: 21 Conclusions from the Social Sciences, healthy marriages usher in physical, emotional, and economic benefits for families. Conversely, divorce may be more detrimental than some have imagined. Consider some of the study's key findings:
• Parental divorce reduces the likelihood that children will graduate from college, and achieve high-status jobs.
• Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than children in other family forms. The health advantages of married homes remain even after taking into account socioeconomic status.
• Parental divorce approximately doubles the odds that adult children will divorce.
• Married men earn between 10 and 40 percent more than single men with similar education and job histories.
• Married people, especially married men, have longer life expectancies than otherwise similar singles.
• Marriage increases the likelihood fathers will have good relationships with children. Sixty-five percent of young adults whose parents divorced had poor relationships with their fathers (compared to 29 percent from non-divorced families).
• Divorce and unmarried childbearing significantly increases poverty rates of both mothers and children. Between one-fifth and one-third of divorcing women end up in poverty as a result of divorce.
• Married mothers have lower rates of depression than single or cohabiting mothers.
• Married women appear to have a lower risk of domestic violence than cohabiting or dating women. Even after controlling for race, age, and education, people who live together are still three times more likely to report violent arguments than married people.
• Adults who live together but do not marry — cohabiters — are more similar to singles than to married couples in terms of physical health and disability, emotional wellbeing and mental health, as well as assets and earnings. Their children more closely resemble the children of single people than the children of married people.
• Marriage appears to reduce the risk that children and adults will be either perpetrators or victims of crime. Single and divorced women are four to five times more likely to be victims of violent crime in any given year than married women.
Boys raised in single-parent homes are about twice as likely (and boys raised in stepfamilies three times as likely) to have committed a crime that leads to incarceration by the time they reach their early thirties, even after controlling for factors such as race, mother's education, neighborhood quality, and cognitive ability.
These findings bring increasing concern when we consider that the number of people affected by divorce is now higher than ever. Since 1960, the percentage of children who do not live with both parents has risen sharply. In 1960, only 19.4 percent of American children lived apart from at least one parent compared with 42.3 percent in the nineties.
The study found that this change has been caused first by increasing divorce rates. More recently increases in single mothers and couples that have children but don't marry have also contributed to the problem.
The Washington Times reports that for the social scientists who worked on the report, the bottom line is that marriage matters. They add that sticking through the hard times will make everyone happier and healthier in the end.
"Asking why marriage matters is like asking why oxygen is good for you," said Steven Nock, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia who worked on the report. "In my view, we haven't discovered a better way of sustaining adults and children than marriage. Marriage is still one of the most permanent human relationships one can have."