Marriage is a Social Good
by Christopher Dodson,
Executive Director, North Dakota Catholic Conference
Marriage is an important and fundamental institution in society. It is the intended foundation for the creation and fostering of families, another important and fundamental institution. Consequently, the absence of marriage contributes to numerous social problems. Many of these problems are the very ones that government, churches, and communities must address in the name of charity and justice.
The Catholic Church has long recognized the social good of marriage. Social scientists and some political leaders are now doing the same. For decades, society ignored the ever increasing incidence of divorce and unmarried childbearing and now we must deal with the consequences.
No one denies that addressing the problem is difficult. Some couples enter into bad marriages. Unmarried persons -- adults and teens -- have children. A person should not be stigmatized and separated from the community because of their bad choices. They and their children are persons created in God’s image, deserving the same love and respect as anyone else. Nevertheless, our compassion for those who are not married should prevent us from recognizing the social good of marriage and the fact that there are too many divorces and too many out-of-wedlock pregnancies.
Recently, a team of social scientists specializing in family issues examined the research on marriage’s impact in society. Though the participants came from different philosophical and political backgrounds, this was their conclusion: Marriage is an important social good, associated with an impressively broad array of positive outcomes for children and adults alike.
The team based the conclusion on data showing twenty-one facts about marriage in society. Space does not permit citing the interesting data supporting these conclusions. Copies of the report, Why Marriage Matters, can be obtained inexpensively from the American Values Institute (http://www.americanvalues.org). Here are the conclusions:
* 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.
* Cohabitation does not equal marriage. Adults who live together but do not marry 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.
These facts demonstrate the prophetic nature of the Church’s teaching on marriage. They also reveal why society, including government and churches, need devote more attention to strengthening and encouraging good marriages.