Is marriage important for children?Published 12:12am Friday, August 19, 2011
When it comes to marriage and children, my wife and I decide to take the traditional route — marriage first, children second.
Before we walked down the aisle, we came to the understanding that we would focus on strengthening our commitment to each other first before adding another human being into the mix. We both wanted children, but not until we knew, with some certainty, that we could raise a child in a stable environment.
And we decided to do that through the traditional institution of marriage.
More and more couples these days decide to have children without first getting married, a report from the the Institute for American Values reported Tuesday.
According to the report, American children are now more likely to have parents who have never married than parents who are divorced. Among its findings, the group of researchers from the University of Virginia report that 42 percent of children at age 12 have lived with cohabiting, unmarried parents, while only 24 percent have lived with a divorced parent.
One of the biggest concerns, the 18 authors point out, is the twelvefold increase in the number of cohabiting households over the last four decades. This is despite a drop in the divorce rate in America to levels not seen since the 1960s.
The report’s conclusion? Marriage is better for children, they said.
The report discovered that children living with two unmarried parents are as likely to experience problems as children living with single parents. Children in cohabiting families perform worse in school and are less psychologically healthy than children of married parents, the study reports. Rates of child abuse are lowest in families with two married biological parents, and highest when there is an unmarried unrelated partner in the home.
Children living with unmarried, cohabiting parents are also more likely to abuse drugs and have behavior problems.
So the answer to this problem is that everyone should just get married, right?
The National Marriage Project might give you the impression that marriage is what provides stability in a relationship, but not so fast.
Marriage, after all, is not some hocus pocus that suddenly makes every relationship happy and stable. Every problem doesn’t disappear at the utterance of the vows.
Maybe it is that marriage is a reflection of a couple’s commitment to each other and the relationship.
Could that commitment happen in a relationship that does not include walking down the aisle or standing in front of a justice of the peace? Aren’t there some cohabited relationships that are just as strong or stronger, even, than some marriages?
The study did point out that children do tend to experience stability when they live with unmarried biological parents who don’t split up, regardless of marital status. And in many European countries where cohabiting is more prevalent than in America, children of cohabited parents do not experience the same problems.
The study also questions whether many of today’s cohabiting parents were yesterday’s married couples who ended up getting divorced.
If that is so, doesn’t it make sense that it is not the marriage certificate but the commitment that led to the certificate that makes all the difference.
The National Marriage Project doesn’t think so. I am not so sure.
Ben hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.