Range of Evidence Lends Credence to Backers of
NEW YORK, 20 SEPT. 2003 (ZENIT)
Supporters of traditional marriage might find comfort in new data
that underline the importance of the family and religious values. A
lengthy article in the June issue of Population and Development Review
gave an overview of the research literature on these themes. The
magazine is published by the New York-based Population Council, not
normally noted for its support of traditional moral values.
The article, by Linda Waite and Evelyn Lehrer, unambiguously states:
"We argue that both marriage and religiosity generally have
far-reaching, positive effects." Among their main points, which
they back up with five pages of bibliographical references, are these:
people are less likely than unmarried people to suffer from long-term
illness or disability, and they have better survival rates for some
illnesses. A growing body of research also shows an association between
religious involvement and improved physical health.
married, and staying married to the same person, is associated with
better mental health. Marriage is also associated with greater overall
happiness. While the connection between mental health and religion is
much debated, Waite and Lehrer state that studies are suggestive of a
positive association between the two.
large body of literature documents that married men earn higher wages
than their single counterparts. Although the relationship between
religion and earnings is largely un-researched the article does note
that religiosity has a positive effect on educational attainment, a key
determinant of success in the labor market.
raised by their own married parents do better, on average, across a
range of outcomes: infant mortality; health; schooling; and avoiding
having children as unmarried teen-agers. Studies also document that
parenting styles formed by religious affiliation are better for
children's welfare. And kids who are religiously active themselves seem
to do better at school and manage to avoid dangerous behavior.
and physical satisfaction with sex are higher for married people.
couples have notably lower levels of domestic violence.
Trying to explain the causal factors behind these results, Waite and
Lehrer observe that both marriage and religion lead to positive outcomes
by providing social support and integration. They also encourage healthy
behaviors and lifestyles. Notably, the benefits from marriage apply to
those who make a lifetime commitment. Both divorce and cohabitation
significantly reduce the positive effects.
A recent study by the Heritage Foundation put a figure on just how much
marriage is worth in economic terms. Single mothers who married would
see an increase of $10,199 to $11,599 in their median family incomes,
said Heritage Foundation analyst Patrick Fagan. He wrote a report on the
subject with other Heritage researchers. The Washington Times reported
on the study May 28.
The Heritage researchers said that new light has been shed on the topic
by the ongoing Fragile Families and Child Well-Being Study. That
five-year study, conducted by researchers with Princeton and Columbia
universities, involves some 4,700 new parents who are low-income and
Marriage has a significant impact for single mothers who don't work, the
study found. These welfare mothers who remain single will live in
poverty because welfare benefits rarely, if ever, lift a family out of
poverty. "By contrast, if the mother marries the child's father,
the poverty rate drops dramatically to 35%," the researchers said.
And the psychological benefits of family life were highlighted in a
study published last month in Denmark. Adults with children are less
likely to commit suicide than those without, the Associated Press said
in its Aug. 11 report on the study. Likewise, young children were found
to add an extra layer guarding against suicide for women. The study
involved 18,611 people in Denmark who committed suicide from 1981 to
"It is widely expected that childbearing is most often a positive
life event that may prevent people from ending their life," Drs.
Ping Qin and Preben Bo Mortensen of Aarhus University in Denmark said in
The researchers compared data on suicide victims and a control group.
Nearly 47% of suicide victims had no children, and fewer than 23% had
two or more children. Only 2% of suicide victims had a child younger
than age 2.
The results confirm some previous data but also "fly in the
face" of some assumptions about the impact of having children, said
psychologist David Clark of Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Medical Center
For example, given the prevalence of postpartum depression, which
experts think occurs in at least 10% of pregnancies, it might be assumed
that suicide would be more common among parents and especially mothers,
Dr. Clark said. Also, "people think having a lot of kids is
economically stressful" and could lead to mental distress or even
suicidal thoughts, he said. On the contrary, the study illustrated the
strength of the biological and psychological bonds that occur between
parent and child.
Room to improve
Census data from the United States and England show that much remains to
be done to improve family life. The Washington Times on June 17
highlighted some of the findings contained in the U.S. Census Bureau's
report, "Children's Living Arrangements and Characteristics: March
The bureau found that in 2002 around 69%, or 49.7 million, of the
nation's 72.3 million children (younger than 18) lived with two parents.
That percentage has remained essentially unchanged since the early
1990s. But 19.8 million children are living with single parents. Of
these, 83%, or 16.5 million, lived with their mothers.
Data from the 2000 U.S. census showed the number of unmarried couples
had surged in the previous decade, to 5.5 million from 3.2 million, the
New York Times reported March 13. "There is a very significant
increase in the number of unmarried-couple households," said Martin
O'Connell, chief of the branch on fertility and family statistics at the
In the United Kingdom, the number of households headed by married
couples has fallen below 50% for the first time, the Times of London
reported Feb. 14. Data from the 2001 census covering England and Wales
revealed that the proportion of married households plummeted from 55% to
45% between 1991 and 2001. The proportion in 1981 was 64%. In 1971 it
At the same time there has been a steady increase in the number of
never-married, single people living on their own, cohabiting couples and
lone parents. Some 22% of children under age 16 now live in lone-parent
families, with another 11% living with cohabiting couples.
More recently, London's Sunday Times reported Sept. 7 on a study showing
that single mothers are more prevalent in countries where the state
provides plenty of benefits. "Increases in public support for
single mothers are significantly associated with a higher prevalence of
never-married and divorced mothers," said the author of the study,
Libertad Gonzalez of Northwestern University in Illinois.
Gonzalez analyzed the levels of single motherhood in 17 Western
countries and compared them with the levels of state benefits. Raising
benefits likely lead to more single mothers, she found.
Meanwhile, efforts continue in many countries to undermine marriage and
the family. In Chile, the Parliament is considering legislation that
could introduce divorce for the first time in that country. Canada is
pursuing legislation to recognize same-sex unions as a form of marriage.
And in the United States, proponents of same-sex unions are awaiting the
outcome of a court case on the issue in Massachusetts. Another case is
under way in New Jersey.
If courts and legislatures have doubts about upholding traditional
marriage, they might do well to look at what medical and census data are