Marriage and Children Could Save Your Life

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Kevin Burns, Intern

We’ve all seen advertisements for wonder-fixes that will make you healthier, happier, more fit, better looking, and richer. But who knew that the world’s greatest “fix” might be right in front of our eyes?  Granted, starting expenses can be pricey, but considering long-term economic benefits, it’s a steal!  He might not quite be Vince the Shamwow, but Norwegian economist Øystein Kravdal’s new study finds that getting married and having a family could decrease your risk of dying by up to a third.

Kravdal’s study “Family Life History and Mortality in Norway,” recently published in the Population and Development Review, tracks the marriage and childbearing history of Norway’s population since 1960.  He tracks men and women separately, as well as nineteen different marital status and marital history categories.

Science has long shown that unmarried men are far more likely to die than married men. But Kradval’s study adds in the benefits of having children.  Among married men, those without children are 36% more likely to die than their counterparts who have fathered two or more children.  In stark contrast, divorced men with no children have a 300% higher risk of dying than married men with two or more children.

The study shows similar results for women. Married women without children run a 61% higher risk of mortality than married women with two or more children. As with men, divorced women without children are almost 300% more likely than married women with children – and close to 100% more likely to die than divorced women with children.

Scientists have speculated about the causes of these trends for years.  Many suspect that married people live longer because of selection – healthy people are more likely to marry and have children. Similarly, particularly in men, having dependents can decrease risky behavior and the likelihood of suicide.  Whatever the cause, in a culture obsessed with longevity and youth, marriage and children could be the fix we’ve all been looking for.

Individualism in Marriage

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MARRI Interns
An increasingly disturbing trend in Americatoday is the growing emphasis and view that marriage is about personal and mutual fulfillment with no essential link to children. Much of this mindset is synonymous with a more individualistic outlook on life. Mercatornet describes the typical individual as believing that marriage is “being there for the other person and helping them when they’re down, helping them get through tough times, cheering them up when they’re sad.” Ricky says, “You know, just pretty much improving each other’s lives together.” In other words, marriage is about mutual help and companionship.
While part of marriage is in fact about relationship between two individuals, this definition leaves out the emphasis on children. Mercatornet further foundthat “young adults’ belief in marriage as commitment and permanence comes with an asterisk: so long as both spouses are happy and love each other.” The growing idea that marriage is simply a union between two people to make each other happy is incomplete. According to Amber and David Lapp, marriage is about something more than simply two separate individuals coming together.
According to the Survey of Consumer Finance, the net worth of cohabitating families with children was only $16,540, as opposed $120,250 for intact families (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).In addition, according to Robert Whelan, Broken Homes and Broken Children, children living in cohabiting homes are also 33 times more likely to suffer serious child abuse than children living with their biological parents (“Child’s Right to Marriage of Parents”).
If marriage could not possibly result in children, then it would be fine for individuals to only consider themselves in their future. However, that is clearly not the case. Marriage is not simply the union of two consenting individuals as long as they remain happy; marriage is a lasting bond and commitment that not only includes the man and the woman, but also the children, who together define the family.

Meaning of Marriage

children, MARRI, marriage, poverty 3 comments
MARRI Interns
Charles Murray’s book Coming Apart has sparked a remarkable conversation about growing inequality in American culture. The upper and lower classes – or “Belmont” and “Fishtown” – “diverge in core beliefs and values,” which, in turn, begets a divergence in the role of marriage in society, as previously discussed on this blog. An article entitled “For Richer (Not for Poorer): The Inequality Crisis of Marriage” appeared in The Atlantic this week, continuing the discussion of growing class divergence in marriage rates. Author Nancy Cook argues that the economic consequences of increasing intermarriage among Belmont-dwellers and declining marriage rates in Fishtown could continue to sow the seeds of inequality. “Then consider the impact on the next generation,” she urges. “Well-educated, wealthy Americans will have more resources to spend on their children’s education, health, and enrichment; low-income people can offer fewer opportunities to help their offspring get ahead.”
Because, in Cook’s words, Americans are no longer “starry-eyed about marriage as an aspiration,” increasingly the definition of the institution becomes more obscured. What is marriage for, anyway? David and Amber Lapp went into Fishtown to ask this very question for Public Discourse. The majority of responses cited a subjective feeling of happiness or a “spark” with little consideration for permanence, service, or even children. Curiously, marriage was still considered to be a solemn, almost sacred, institution that should not be entered into lightly. “It is not out of disdain for marriage that working-class young adults delay marriage and begin families,” the Lapps write, “but out of reverence for it as something that ought not be broken.”

Marriage then becomes an empty set: it should not be entered into lightly, but what is it a couple is entering in the first place? While research from the Marriage and Religion Research Institute has demonstrated that marriage does have a positive effect on happiness, it appears this cannot realistically be the ultimate purpose of the institution if it is to last. Nevertheless, a number of the responses the Lapps received can be found in marriage, as MARRI’s 162 Reasons to Marry suggests. A reexamination of the meaning of marriage could help Fishtown out of its economic and social doldrums.

What’s So Wrong with Polygamy?

child well-being, children, crime, culture, family, fathers, human capital, marriage, monogamy, news, polygamy, social institutions, women No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Libby Copeland writes for Slate on the effects of polygamy and monogamous marriage on crime in “Is Polygamy Really So Awful?” While we disagree with Ms. Copeland’s conclusion (that the best form of union for a society is best not because it is moral, but because it “works”), the research she references in her piece is extremely interesting. Read along:

History suggests that [plural marriage] is [harmful]. A new study out of the University of British Columbia documents how societies have systematically evolved away from polygamy because of the social problems it causes. The Canadian researchers are really talking about polygyny, which is the term for one man with multiple wives, and which is by far the most common expression of polygamy. Women are usually thought of as the primary victims of polygynous marriages, but as cultural anthropologist Joe Henrich documents, the institution also causes problems for the young, low-status males denied wives by older, wealthy men who have hoarded all the women. And those young men create problems for everybody.

“Monogamous marriage reduces crime,” Henrich and colleagues write, pulling together studies showing that polygynous societies create large numbers of unmarried men, whose presence is correlated with increased rates of rape, theft, murder, and substance abuse. According to Henrich, the problem with unmarried men appears to come primarily from their lack of investment in family life and in children. Young men without futures tend to engage in riskier behaviors because they have less to lose. And, too, they may engage in certain crimes to get wives—stealing to amass enough wealth to attract women, or kidnapping other men’s wives.

Ms. Copeland also addresses the effects polygamy produces for individual men, women, and children. These effects are consistently negative:

That polygyny is bad for women is not necessarily intuitive. As economist Robert H. Frank has pointed outwomen in polygynist marriages should have more power because they’re in greater demand, and men should wind up changing more diapers. But historically, polygamy has proved to be yet another setup that [harms] the XX set. Because there are never enough of them to go around, they wind up being married off younger. Brothers and fathers, realizing how valuable their female relations are, tend to control them more. And, as one would expect, polygynous households foster jealousy and conflict among co-wives. Ethnographic surveys of 69 polygamous cultures “reveals no case where co-wife relations could be described as harmonious,” Henrich writes, with what must be a good dose of understatement.

Children, too, appear to suffer in polygamous cultures. Henrich examines a study comparing 19th-century Mormon households, 45 of them headed by wealthy men, generally with multiple wives, and 45 headed by poorer men, generally with one wife each. What’s surprising is that the children of the poorer men actually fared better, proving more likely to survive to age 15. Granted, this is a small study, but it’s consistent with other studies, including one from Africa showing that the children of monogamous households tend to do better than those from polygynous households in the same communities. Why? Some scholars suspect that polygyny may discourage paternal investment. Men with lots of children and wives are spread too thin, and to make things worse, they’re compiling resources to attract their next wives instead of using it on their existing families.

For more on the benefits of intact, monogamous marriage for society and individuals, visit

Math, Marriage, and Church- What’s the Connection?

children, education, family, MARRI, marriage, religion, single parents No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

Our latest Mapping America (110: Children’s Peabody Individual Achievement Test math percentile norms) shows that children who attend church weekly or more often and who are raised in intact families rank in the highest PIAT math percentiles.

The strongest effects appear to proceed from family structure: children raised in intact married families average in the 54th percentile, while children raised in cohabiting stepfamilies or always-single parent families score the worst, averaging in the 27th percentile.

Keep tabs on for more Mapping America productions!

When Marriage Falls, Children are Hurt

child well-being, children, education, marriage, single parents No comments

According to a new Pew Research study, released less than a month ago, barely half (51%) of Americans are married, compared to 72% in 1960. However, federal surveys show that the birth rate today is 4,317,000—greater than the birthrate in 1961, at 4,268,000.

What these numbers tell us is that there are more children born to fewer married couples. This means that many children today are missing out on the host of benefits that come from being raised by two married parents. Notably, children raised in married parent families do better in many educational outcomes.
From “Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment,” research shows that in terms of raw achievement, elementary school children from intact biological families earn higher reading and math test scoresthan children in cohabiting and divorced single and always-single parent families. However, adolescents from non-intact families have lower scores than their counterparts in intact married families on math, science, history, and reading tests.
When it comes to school behavior, adolescents in single-parent families, married stepfamilies, or cohabiting stepfamilies are more likelythan adolescents in intact married families to have ever been suspended or expelled from school, to have participated in delinquent activities, and to have problems getting along with teachers, doing homework, and paying attention in school.  
Parents have a tremendous impact on their child’s education, as well. Adolescents in intact biological families reported that their parents participated more in school, that they discussed school more with their parents, and that they knew more of their friends’ parents than those in single-parent families and stepfamilies. Kids from married parent families also have greater education expectations: 31.3 percent of sons and 26.7 percent of daughters from intact biological families plan to get a college degree, but 42.4 percent of sons and 35.9 percent of daughters in single-parent families do not plan to get a college degree.
See our full report in order to see the benefits of marriage and religion for students’ raw achievement, test scores, school behavior, parental impact, religious practice, and family income.
The best thing for your child’s education just may be your marriage.

National Adoption Month and the President’s Proclamation

adoption, children, family, fathers, MARRI, marriage, mothers, same-sex parenting No comments

By Anna Dorminey, Staff

President Obama has issued an order proclaiming November 2011 as National Adoption Month in which he mentioned LGBT families: “Adoptive families come in all forms,” the order says. “With so many children waiting for loving homes, it is important to ensure that all qualified caregivers are given the opportunity to serve as adoptive parents, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or marital status.”

National Adoption Month is something we at MARRI celebrate with the rest of the country. We believe that the choice to raise a child not biologically one’s own is a heroic decision, and we honor adoptive parents, and biological mothers and fathers who give their children for adoption, in their efforts to give children a second chance. See our research synthesis paper, Adoption Works Well, for a review of the literature on the benefits of adoption for children, biological parents, and adoptive parents alike.

That said, not all family structures are equally effective at raising children. As shown again and again by Mapping America, as well as Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment and our research synthesis paper Marriage and Economic Well-Being, intact married families, with a mother and a father, that worship weekly produce the best results for their children—educationally, financially, religiously, and otherwise.

What do you think? Do you think family structure itself is part of what makes a potential adoptive parent a “qualified caregiver”? Let us know what you think in the comments section!

If the Family Fails, Can Students Pass?

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By Anna Dorminey, Staff

In a Bloomberg editorial published Sunday regarding No Child Left Behind, the editorial board criticized Congress, the Department of Education, and the Obama Administration for failing to bring NCLB’s requirements up to date (or failing to provide direction on how to do so). The President has issued waivers to states discharging them from NCLB’s requirement that they meet a 100 percent reading and math proficiency standard; the DOE explains that states will, instead, make their own standards.
The writers of the editorial go on to write about the need for a universal benchmark and effective accountability measures and about the benefit of incentives, a discussion of whose merits all belong in another blog. The point is that all of these measures and plans address student academic achievement from far too shallow an angle. The education establishment is trying to make sure students pass while disregarding the fact that their families are failing.

All of the best incentives and goals in the world can only work so effectively if American students are not enjoying the stability and care at home that they deserve. As we illustrate in one of our most recent productions, Marriage, Family Structure, and Children’s Educational Attainment, the intact family provides students with the environment they need to achieve. Students from intact families achieve more in terms of purely academic measures and in terms of school participation and behavior.

Our latest Mapping America production, Mapping America 108: CAT-ASVAB Math/VerbalPercentile Scores, underscores the importance of family structure. The ASVAB,or Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, is an examination that determines whether or not an individual is qualified to enlist in the U.S. armed forces or to serve it in various capacities. Our research shows that those from intact, married families earn higher scores than those in all other family structures. Additionally, those who attend church at least weekly do better than those who attend at least monthly, less than monthly, or never. Those who both come from an intact family and attend church at least weekly do the best.
The Bloomberg article closes with a list of questions: “Why do test results often vary widely within individual schools? Why do many minority students fare poorly even at high-achieving suburban schools?” The answers lie at home. (For more on the strength of the family among minorities, see the 2010 U.S. Index of Belonging and Rejection.) If the family fails, a student’s chances of passing drop.

Marriage and Fertility Predictability in Austria

Austria, children, Christianity, cohabitation, family, marriage, religion, world population No comments
By Anna Dorminey and Henry Potrykus, Ph.D., Staff

We all like to believe that, as unique individuals, we’re masters of our own destiny and originals in our own right. We may still cling to this privilege in the U.S., but Austrians have officially lost the dispensation, at least with regard to their likelihood to marry and bear children.

Caroline Berghammer of the Vienna Institute of Demography, through analysis of the 2008-2009 Austrian Generations and Gender Survey, charted family life paths and individual likelihood of choosing them, based on personal religiosity, family size growing up, and other factors. (Because Austria’s religious population is mostly Catholic, Berghammer only includes Catholics in her “religious” category.)
This chart lays out the most common “family life paths” in Austria, among the men and women included in the study who were between the ages of 40 and 45. The numbers represent how many children a person has, and the colors indicate a person’s relationship status.
Relaxing a little the age rigidity of these life-paths, she found that the largest proportion of the Austrian population (19.1%) chooses never to have children and to live in one cohabiting relationship after another (she calls this “sequential cohabitation”). The smallest proportion (6%) chooses traditional parenthood—direct marriage, no cohabitation—with three or more children.
Berghammer found that those who attend Mass monthly or weekly are more likely to marry directly, without cohabiting, and to have at least two children. She also found that a person’s odds of cohabiting sequentially (versus his likelihood to follow the most common life path—cohabiting, eventually marrying and having two kids along the way) are halved if they attend religious services.
Those who don’t claim any religion are 87% more likely than Roman Catholics to have children outside of marriage. Additionally, for every sibling a person has, he or she is 29% more likely to choose traditional parenthood and to have three or more children rather than the aforementioned “most common life path.”
Notably, people who consider themselves religious but don’t regularly attend church don’t seem to differ much from those who don’t consider themselves religious.

Figures and chart: Caroline Berghammer, “Family life trajectories and religiosity in Austria,” August 2010 draft version- later published in the European Sociological Review (2010).