Marriage makes a difference to kids

Besides getting kidnapped or being eaten by the pack of lions that routinely appeared in a recurring nightmare of my youth, my greatest childhood fear was that my parents would divorce.

Judging from the anger that some of my friends have experienced related to the divorces of their parents, I suspect I’m not alone.

Despite the periodic rationales we hear from people who argue their divorce was best for all those involved, most people intuitively know divorce is not ideal for children, abusive situations notwithstanding.

Still, many presumably intelligent people have argued over the last half-century that divorce and other nuclear family alternatives (single-parenting, blended families, etc.) have no negative impact in the development of children. That line of reasoning appears to be coming to an end.

An academic journal produced jointly by Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and The Brookings Institution recently reported that the question is no longer IF marriage provides the optimal environment for kids. The question is only WHY it does.

“Most scholars now agree that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better than children in other family forms across a wide range of outcomes,” writes editor-in-chief Sara McLanahan in the fall 2015 edition of The Future of Children (

The publication gives many benefits marriage provides for kids:

Parent coordination and stability, economies of scale, availability of insurance and social networks, income and net wealth, division of responsibilities, bargaining power and borrowing capacity, father involvement and parents’ mental and physical health.

Even when some of these benefits are provided in non-marriage situations through government and social programs, marriage still proves superior.

Researcher David Ribar: “Studies that control for the indirect effects of these mechanisms typically find that direct positive associations remain between children’s wellbeing and marriage, strongly suggesting that marriage is more than the sum of these particular parts.”

Contributor Ron Haskins notes that in the last 45 years, single mothering has increased by 120%, marriage rates have declined by 35%, nonmarital births have increased and half of all children will now spend at least some time in a single parent household before they turn 18.

According to Haskins, empirical data “definitively establish” that these trends have led to increased poverty, increased income inequality and harm to children’s growth and development.

Forty per cent of single mother households now live in poverty versus just eight per cent of married-couple families. And since 1974, the mean annual income of married couples has grown by $36,000 (in 2013 dollars), while single mother incomes have grown by just $8,000.

“Single parenthood affects not just children’s current economic circumstances but their economic circumstances once they become adults as well,” Haskins states.

Furthermore, family structure changes have had a spiral effect as lower income, lower educated people marry less and cohabitate more. It makes sense. A young mother on food stamps and a housing subsidy surely finds it difficult to dream of veils, flowers and chapels.

Contraception is offered as part of the solution, though birth control alone seems like offering a fish for a day versus teaching the self-control and self-respect that reels a lifetime of good decisions.

No easy answers will cure the ills created by the decline of marriage. However, intellectual honesty like that offered in The Future of Children can help reverse decades of counterintuitive family composition propaganda.


Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at


2 Responses to “Marriage makes a difference to kids”

  1. 1 G G December 2, 2015 at 19:59

    What a great article!, as a Parent I would like to say thank you for this lines of great wisdom!!

  2. 2 jessestroup December 2, 2015 at 22:29

    Thank you Kevin.  So true. You spoke up for those who could not speak-up for themselves.Jesse  Jesse R. Stroup Director of Spiritual Care Lifeline Chaplaincy 1926 Chattanooga Pl. #B Dallas, TX 75235

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