Since 1960, the proportion of children who do not live with their own two parents has risen sharply—from 19.4% to 42.3% in the Nineties. This change has been caused, first, by large increases in divorce, and more recently, by a big jump in single mothers and cohabiting couples who have children but don’t marry. For several decades the impact of this dramatic change in family structure has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. No longer. These 26 findings are now widely agreed upon.
Five New Themes
In addition to reviewing research on family topics covered in the first edition of the report, Why Marriage Matters, Second Edition highlights five new themes in marriage-related research.
- Even though marriage has lost ground in the minority communities in recent years, marriage has not lost its value in these communities.
- An emerging line of research indicates that marriage benefits poor Americans, and Americans from disadvantaged backgrounds, even though these Americans are now less likely to get and stay married.
- Marriage seems to be particularly important in civilizing men, turning their attention away from dangerous, antisocial, or self-centered activities and towards the needs of a family.
- Beyond its well-known contributions to adult health, marriage influences the biological functioning of adults and children in ways that can have important social consequences.
- The relationship quality of intimate partners is related to both their marital status and, for married adults, to the degree to which these partners are committed to marriage.
Update Research Findings
Among the research findings summarized by the report are:
- 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 end up divorced.
- 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% 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—cohabitors—are more similar to singles than to married couples in terms of physical health and disability, emotional well-being 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.
The authors conclude with three fundamental conclusions:
- Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.
- Marriage is an important public good, associated with a range of economic, health, educational, and safety benefits that help local, state, and federal governments serve the common good.
- The benefits of marriage extend to poor and minority communities, despite the fact that marriage is particularly fragile in these communities.