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Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia
When it issued an official report on “lesbian and gay parenting” in 2005, the American Psychological Association (APA) made the bold claim, based on fifty-nine published studies on homosexual parenting, that “not a single study has found children of lesbian or gay parents to be disadvantaged in any significant respect relative to children of heterosexual parents.” The only way the APA could claim such is by assuming that thousands of other studies that quantify handicaps accruing to children whose married mothers and fathers separate (or do not marry at all) do not apply in situations when parents are homosexual.
But another reason the trade association got it wrong, according to Loren Marks of Louisiana State University, is that the studies lacked scientific validity; they failed to meet the methodological and statistical standards that the discipline is supposed to uphold. According to his exhaustive review of the studies the APA cited, not a single study “compares a large, random, representative sample of lesbian or gay parents and their children with a large, random, representative sample of random married parents and their children. The available data, which are drawn primarily from small convenience samples, are insufficient to support a strong generalization claim either way.”
The Louisiana researcher lists a number of reasons for questioning the integrity of the APA in subordinating objective research to the advocacy of homosexual parenting:
- Seventy-seven percent of the fifty-nine studies were based on small samples of fewer than a hundred participants; moreover, the samples were composed almost exclusively of upper-income, white lesbian mothers.
- Nearly half of the studies (44 percent) did not include a comparison group of married mothers and fathers.
- When the studies did include a comparison group, the group represented an imprecise category of “heterosexual parents” that frequently represented single parents, not a two-parent intact family.
- Contrary to the APA’s assertion, one study did indeed quantify better outcomes for children of married parents compared to children of homosexual parents.
- The child outcomes measured by the studies rarely included objective, commonly-used social measures such as poverty, educational achievement, labor-force participation, criminality, incarceration, substance abuse, psychological well-being, and unwed childbearing.
- None of the cited studies were longitudinal, tracking child outcomes into adulthood.
- Only a few of the comparison studies specified the statistical power of their claims; none had samples large enough to detect an effect size.
Based upon his analysis, Marks claims that the APA assertion, along with its related generalization that “environments provided by lesbian and gay parents are as likely as those provided by heterosexual parents to support and enable children’s psychosocial growth,” are “not empirically warranted.”
Given the extent to which judges and legislators have cited these policy pronouncements to advance same-sex marriage laws, Marks deserves praise for exposing the APA charade. As the researcher implies, it’s unlikely that any new parenting arrangement has emerged that offers all the promise of a married mother and father. If APA officials were honest in their analysis of the literature, they would see “gay parenting” for what it is: merely a subset—with all the related baggage that children are forced to carry—of single, step, divorce, or adoptive parenting.
(Loren Marks, “Same-Sex Parenting and Children’s Outcomes: A Closer Examination of the American Psychological Association’s Brief on Lesbian and Gay Parenting,” Social Science Research 41 [July 2012]: 735–51.)
Mark Regnerus Gets It Right
Although the American Psychological Association (APA) boasts scholarly objectivity, the social-science guild has for years conducted studies that generate the results—from the alleged benefits of the “good” divorce to the virtues of homosexuality—that progressive activists’ itching ears want to hear. Consequently, it often falls to one brave solider to challenge the groupthink.
Indeed, Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas has done exactly that, conducting the first methodologically rigorous study of homosexual parenting, the latest cause of American elites. Exposing the discredited studies hailed by the APA, the sociologist establishes that children raised by homosexual parents—like all children raised by anything but a married mother and father—suffer risks that should not be overlooked or minimized.
Unique to Regnerus’s study is the data source: his New Family Structures Study, a new research instrument that yielded a data sample of 2,988 randomly selected Americans between the ages 18 to 39, including 175 adults with lesbian mothers and 73 with homosexual fathers. The cross-sectional study queried respondents about their social and economic behaviors, health behaviors, family of origin, and current relationships. Based upon their answers, the lone Texan quantified how the 248 adult children who reported parental homosexual behavior prior to age 18 differed from their peers from six other family-of-origin types.
And differ they do, especially the children of lesbian mothers, who represent the vast majority of children with homosexual parents. When compared to their peers from intact families, Regnerus found that these children suffered risks of less-desirable outcomes that reached statistical significance (p < 0.05) in twenty-five of the forty measures under consideration. In further analysis with a full set of demographic controls, the disparities remained significant in all but one of these measures. Among children with homosexual fathers, bivariate analysis revealed statistically significant differences with children from intact families in eleven measures.
The researcher’s use of specific comparison groups, a feature missing in other homosexual-parenting studies, reveals that children of lesbians face problems similar to those faced by children of single parents and stepfamilies. Among children from stepfamilies, the tests yielded twenty-four statistically significant differences, with and without controls, setting them apart from children of intact families. Among children from single parents, the tests yielded twenty-five statistically significant differences, twenty-one differences with controls.
Regnerus identifies a number of statistically significant risks of problems that haunt adult children of lesbian mothers, single mothers, and stepfamilies: all of these adults were more likely than peers from intact families to be from a family that had received welfare while growing up; to be currently on public assistance; to have been touched sexually by a parent or adult as a child; to consider themselves homosexual; to report being in counseling or therapy in the past year; and to have thought recently about suicide. They also reported lower levels of educational attainment, physical health, and household income. Moreover, these adults reported higher frequencies of being arrested as well as pleading guilty to a major offense. Meanwhile, adult women from lesbian-mother, single-parent, and stepparent families differed from peers from intact families in another statistically significant way: reporting more sexual partners (both same-sex and opposite-sex).
Like any careful scholar, Regnerus points out that his cross-sectional data cannot address issues of causality. He also, like any sensitive academic careful not to offend elite sensibilities, concedes that some children can indeed weather all sorts of challenging family environments. But the Texas sociologist is not afraid to articulate the implication of his study, a study which “clearly reveals that children appear most apt to succeed well as adults—on multiple counts and across a variety of domains—when they spend their entire childhood with their married mother and father, and especially when the parents remain married to the present day.”
(Mark Regnerus, “How Different Are the Adult Children of Parents Who Have Same-Sex Relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study,” Social Science Research 41 [July 2012]: 752–70.)
Penn State’s Paul Amato Gets It Wrong
Paul Amato, one of the revered deans of American sociology, has shown courage in bucking his academic peers, as he did when he suggested that a “good divorce” is not all that good for children (see New Research, Summer 2012). Yet the scholar has not demonstrated the same resolve in dealing with the academic and media lobbies that assert that homosexual parenting can be good for children. In his relatively fair review of the studies by Loren Marks and Mark Regnerus (see the two New Research commentaries above), he defends the policy statements of the American Psychological Association (APA) that endorse homosexual parenting while fearing Regnerus’s work might be used “to undermine the social progress that has been made in recent decades protecting the rights of gays, lesbians, and their children.” That’s a surprising response, given the conviction of a fellow employee of Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, both a gay father and gay predator.
Amato is more than willing to give the APA homosexual-parenting studies the benefit of the doubt, largely because the population of such parents is exceedingly tiny and difficult to locate, making it difficult to collect the large representative sample that Marks claims is necessary to draw fair conclusions. Perhaps more revealing, Amato praises the APA studies for getting “this field of study ‘off the ground’ and setting an agenda for future work” (emphasis added).
To his credit, Amato acknowledges the methodological superiority of the Regnerus study: “In contrast to most prior studies, the Regnerus study has adequate statistical power for most comparisons” between children of homosexual parents and those of other family backgrounds, and “is better situated than virtually all previous studies to detect differences between these groups in the population.” Indeed, using Regnerus’s data, the Pennsylvania researcher calculates “moderately large” or strong effect sizes for differences separating offspring of lesbian mothers from their peers with continuously married biological parents. Yet because the effect sizes weaken when the comparison group is changed to stepfamilies, divorced parents, or continuously single parents, Amato believes those reduced effects warrant a more positive view of homosexual parenting.
Why Amato does not apply the same standard to homosexual parenting that he has applied to divorce parenting is not clear. Perhaps political considerations take the upper hand, as he clearly supports same-sex marriage laws, likening them to the constitutional right to marry granted to mixed-race, but opposite-sex, couples by a 1967 Supreme Court decision. Indeed, he repeatedly states that social science, especially the work of Regnerus, should not inform the political or legal debate. Blind to the inconsistencies in his own reasoning, he nonetheless suggests that “allowing same-sex parents to marry might be beneficial” to the increased numbers of children that he foresees, without any expression of concern, being raised by homosexuals.
These comments suggest that the noted sociologist has lost sight of what children need most of all: a married biological mother and father, the gold standard of living arrangements, an arrangement delivering numerous benefits documented by decades of research literature, including the Regnerus study. So when Amato asserts, “All children should have the right to be raised by married parents,” he’s not claiming children deserve the gold standard; he means that homosexual couples should have the right to marry and raise other people’s children.
(Paul R. Amato, “The Well-Being of Children with Gay and Lesbian Parents,” Social Science Research 41 [July 2012]: 771–74.)
Married Men, Living Longer
The mountain of evidence indicating that marriage fosters longevity keeps growing. The latest addition to that mountain, a study by an international team of scholars from Harvard, Lausanne University, University College London, and the University of Bristol, adduced strong evidence that married middle-class British men are much more likely to live long lives than are their single peers.
To be sure, these scholars did not initially focus on wedlock: they were interested in how “social support” affects mortality and, more narrowly, in how “SES [socioeconomic status] differences in social support might account for SES differences in mortality.” To assess these issues, the researchers scrutinized social-support, economic, and mortality data collected for 9,333 British civil servants from 1985 to 2009. The researchers did not get far before marital status bobbed into view.
For instance, when the researchers were looking at the relationship between SES and social support, they discovered that men in the lowest socioeconomic category in their study were “over 5 times more likely to be unmarried than were men in the highest SES category.” The researchers also found that “men in the lowest SES category had an increased risk of death compared with those in the highest category.” But the data indicated something more interesting than the simple fact that poor men are less likely to marry and more likely to die prematurely than are affluent men. Further analysis revealed that more than one quarter of the relationship between SES and all-cause and cardiovascular mortality rates could be accounted for by differences in “network score” (a statistical measure of social ties) and marital status.
The link between marital status and mortality rates persisted even when the researchers moved away from their focus on socioeconomic status. “For all-cause mortality in men,” the researchers conclude, “being unmarried was associated with a higher mortality risk (H[azard]R[atio] = 1.770).” Even when they ran their data through a sophisticated statistical model that accounted for differences in socioeconomic status and in self-rated health, the researchers found that “there remained a 51% excess risk of death for participants who were not married or cohabiting” compared to married peers. Summing up their analysis, the researchers remark, “These data suggest that in men, not being married or cohabitating is an important risk factor for mortality.”
The researchers interpret their findings in terms of earlier studies suggesting that social support enhances health, especially by “providing resources that can be used to avoid the risk of disease, minimize their consequences, or influence health-promoting or health-damaging behaviors.” Also relevant were earlier studies indicating that “social support might have a direct impact on a range of physiologic systems, such as immune, neuroendocrine, and cardiovascular activity.” But no form of social support appeared more important to the researchers than the support that comes through marriage. “Overall,” they write, “marital status more strongly predicted mortality than did the other indicators of social support that we examined.”
(Silvia Stringhini et al., “Socioeconomic Status, Structural and Functional Measures of Social Support, and Mortality: The British Whitehall II Cohort Study, 1985–2009,” American Journal of Epidemiology 175.12 [June 2012]: 1275–1283.)
Marital Bliss Outshines Cohabitation
A generation ago, few dared to suggest that shacking up was anything like holy matrimony. Today, however, increased public disregard for marriage dovetails with a fascination with cohabitation. Yet the research continues to show that marriage remains superior to cohabitation, even in progressive Europe. Indeed, scholars there have established that married persons not only report significantly higher levels of “relationship satisfaction” but also are less likely to have considered breaking up than their cohabiting peers, even cohabitants who are planning to marry.
Using data from the first wave (2003–07) of the Generations and Gender Survey, researchers associated with Statistics Norway and Erasmus University in Rotterdam discovered key differences between the two living arrangements in their study of 42,000 married or cohabiting adults, ages 18 to 55, in eight European countries. In their initial round of tests, they found that cohabitants without plans to marry reported lower levels of relationship satisfaction, while cohabitants with plans to marry their current lover had higher levels of satisfaction, than respondents who were married. The latter correlation, however, can be misleading. The mean difference, the researchers note, was small, yielding a low effect size. More important, in the full statistical model with a wide range of controls, both types of cohabitants registered significantly lower levels of relationship satisfaction than did married individuals (p < 0.001 for those with no intent to marry; p < 0.01 for those with intent to marry).
Cohabitants in the eight countries were also more likely to have considered dissolving their relationship in the previous year than were married respondents, a pattern that was robust for both types of cohabitants and even stronger for those without nuptial plans (p < 0.001 vs. p < 0.01).
While the researchers found this “cohabitation gap” in every country they studied, the relationship-quality gap was smaller in countries where cohabitation is more prevalent (Norway, France, and the Netherlands) and larger in countries where the practice is less prevalent (Russia, Romania, and Germany). In all eight of the countries studied, cohabitants with no plans to marry were more likely than their married peers to have considered splitting up. What is more, in six of the eight countries, even cohabitants who were planning to wed were more likely to have considered splitting up than their married peers.
Ironically, the researchers seem more taken with these modest variations between countries than with the glaring differences separating cohabiting Europeans from married Europeans. So while conceding “that marriage and cohabitation continue to be diverse across Europe,” they curiously imagine that the disparities separating marriage from cohabitation might disappear “if cohabitation continues to spread and becomes a normative experience across Europe.”
These scholars are certainly free to hope for such a social future. However, their own data would clearly justify a recommendation that Europeans rediscover matrimony, a social relationship that fosters higher levels of happiness and stability, and reject cohabitation, a social arrangement that delivers less favorable outcomes. The failure of scholars like this trio to recognize this reality only illustrates the intellectual bankruptcy of twenty-first century sociology.
(Kenneth Aarskaug Wiik, Renske Keizer, and Trude Lappegard, “Relationship Quality in Marital and Cohabiting Unions Across Europe,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74 [June 2012]: 389–98.)
Sex and Commitment
When University of Chicago researchers published Sex in America in 1994, the landmark study revealed that married Americans have more sex, and more enjoyable sex, than do single Americans. The party scene may delude the younger set into thinking otherwise, but a study published in the American Sociological Review unintentionally confirms the bourgeois results of the Chicago study. By detailing how “hookups” represent a raw deal for coeds, the newer study indirectly indicates that marriage serves the interests of young women far better than does the promiscuous life that Hollywood glamorizes.
Not that the researchers set out to quantify the virtues of monogamy. The team of three sociologists from the University of Michigan, New York University, and Stanford University actually set out to identify what might be called “best practices” when it comes to the sexual activities of unmarried college women. Their study, based upon data representing 13,500 undergraduate coeds who participated in the Online College Social Life Survey between 2005 and 2011, as well as in-depth personal interviews with 85 senior coeds at two large universities during the academic year 2007–08, delves into matters that Emily Post would deem unsuitable for dinner-table conversation. Moreover, the researchers seem to believe—against all evidence to the contrary—that raw sexual pleasure is more important to a young woman’s well-being than a stable marriage.
Nonetheless, their findings make it clear that hookups (defined as liaisons that young women have with men with whom they were not in a “relationship”) are far less satisfying than encounters with men with whom coeds have been in a “relationship” for at least six months. Granted, while the coeds report that just 39 percent of their hookups progressed to sexual intercourse (compared to 80 percent of their dating relationships), they report significantly less satisfaction with “hookup intercourse” than what they call “relationship intercourse.”
Although a limited study, its redeeming factor is its identification of “commitment” and “long-term orientation” as key variables of the sexual well-being of women. Whether in hookups or dating relationships, coeds reported that their sexual satisfaction increased if they anticipated a deeper relationship. If they were interested in a relationship beforehand, coeds were twice as likely to enjoy a hookup encounter, leading the researchers to claim “romantic interests enhanced sexual enjoyment for women.” Satisfaction also increased when women in dating relationships indicated that they were “likely” or “very likely” to marry their boyfriends, who they reported were more attentive to them than the studs they typically hooked up with.
As much as the researchers want to “improve the quality of young adult sex,” they express no reservations about the promiscuous nature of college life, attested to by evidence indicating that senior coeds report a median number of three intercourse partners and that 69 percent of senior coeds report having experienced at least one hookup encounter. The scholars instead hide behind their data, claiming that their “empirical analysis cannot speak” to the appropriateness of “non-relationship sex,” yet they still presume to offer recommendations to enhance the enjoyment of such encounters.
Their findings nonetheless confirm the futility of such recommendations. After all, their own data indicate that commitment to a long-term relationship offers the best context of sexual satisfaction for young women. What is more, if these women scholars would embrace matrimony as the standard for delivering that coveted stability, they would promote the well-being of this generation of young women regardless of what feminist dreamers may suppose.
(Elizabeth A. Armstrong, Paula England, and Alison C. K. Fogarty, “Accounting for Women’s Orgasm and Sexual Enjoyment in College Hookups and Relationships,” American Sociological Review 77.3 [June 2012]: 435–62.)
Do Low-Income Americans Need Marriage Education?
When he launched his healthy-marriage initiative, former President George W. Bush directed the same federal bureaucrats who run the welfare state to administer this multi-million-dollar grant program. The president’s administrative strategy implied that the crisis of marriage in America is largely a problem of the nation’s poor. To be sure, low-income and working-class Americans suffer more family breakdown than the upper-middle class. But a study by psychologists at the University of California, Los Angeles, suggests that the reason for the retreat from marriage among the poor is not that they don’t value wedlock or that they lack “relationship” skills, deficiencies that the Bush administration believed government-funded marriage education would correct.
Thomas Trail and Benjamin Karney came to this conclusion after analyzing the responses of 4,500 adults who participated in the 2003 Florida Family Formation Survey and an additional 1,500 individuals of similar characteristics from California, New York, and Texas. Among their respondents, who were disproportionately non-white, 29 percent had incomes below 200 percent of the federal poverty level while an additional 10 percent were TANF recipients. Fifty-two percent of the respondents were married; approximately two-thirds of the respondents were female.
The researchers’ data hardly justify the patronizing attitudes often held by those in the helping professions: low-income—including TANF—respondents were found to have remarkably healthy and positive attitudes toward marriage. Like those with moderate and high incomes, these survey participants agreed that a happy marriage is “one of the most important things in life” and that parents “ought to be married.” Low-income respondents were also similar to more affluent respondents in their view of the kinds of benefits marriage can deliver. However, they hoped for more economic benefits and fewer emotional and sexual benefits than did high-income respondents.
What is more, the researchers found no significant differences between low-income couples and high-income couples in reported levels of personal conflict stemming from issues with parenting, communication, sex, household chores, or in-laws. (The researchers did, however, find that low-income couples were more vulnerable than high-income couples to money problems and substance abuse.)
In contrast to the high-income respondents, lower-income respondents were socially conservative in their attitudes. Both low- and moderate-income respondents expressed more traditional views regarding premarital sex and cohabitation outside of marriage; the low-income set even felt more strongly that couples should be of the same race or ethnicity. And expressing views certainly to confound adversarial feminists, lower-income Americans affirmed more conventional gender roles, believing that “the man of the house should make important decisions” and that it is “better for a family if the man earns a living and the woman takes care of the home.”
Likewise, low-income respondents were less accepting than were affluent couples of divorce, believing that divorce reflects poorly on a couple. And they were less likely to agree that dissolving a marriage is “a reasonable solution to an unhappy marriage” but more apt to agree that parents who no longer love each other should stay married for the sake of the children.
Reflecting upon these findings, the California researchers claim: “The culture of marriage is just as strong among low-income populations as it is among those with higher-incomes.” While containing a kernel of truth, their observation compels the question: Why is there less marriage, more divorce, and more children born out of wedlock among the lower classes than among the college-educated crowd?
The researchers seem to believe that more government interventions are necessary to address the greater substance abuse in these populations, as well as more “job training” and targeted programs promoting economic stability. “Whatever bolsters the financial prospects of lower-income couples may remove barriers to marriage,” they claim, seemingly unaware that a generation of anti-poverty programs have attempted to do just that. The sociologists give no thought to the altered legal and policy landscape—from legalized abortion and no-fault divorce—that no longer upholds marriage as the norm, a reordered social landscape that has catalyzed family breakdown among the poor more than the ruling class realizes.
(Thomas E. Trail and Benjamin R. Karney, “What’s [Not] Wrong with Low-Income Marriages,” Journal of Marriage and Family 74 [June 2012]: 413–27.)
Unmarried and on Disability Pensions in Sweden
For decades, progressives have regarded Sweden as the Promised Land. They laud Swedish policymakers for the exceptionally generous support they have given unmarried mothers employed outside the home. However, a study by researchers at Stockholm University and the Karolinska Institute indicates that public welfare is a poor substitute for marriage. What is more, that study suggests that policies favorable to women’s employment but unfavorable to wedlock will, in the end, push the government toward bankruptcy.
Indeed, the risk of government insolvency was in view as the researchers began their investigation into what they call the “heavy socioeconomic burden” on Sweden and other countries belonging to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) because of the numbers of people relying on tax-funded disability pensions. More narrowly, the researchers worry about the way that, “in many countries, a shift in the gender structure of disability pensioners has occurred,” in part because “a marked increase in the number of young individuals on D[isability] P[ension] based on psychiatric diagnoses has been observed, which has been most pronounced among young women” (emphasis added).
Because the trend in psychiatrically justified Disability Pensions granted to young women is pronounced in Sweden, the researchers focused on Swedish women. By analyzing data collected between 1993 and 2003 from all women born in Sweden between 1960 and 1979, the researchers sought to identify the social circumstances of women receiving costly Disability Pensions (DPs). Their analysis clearly identified prolonged maternal employment and single marital status as predictors of women’s receiving such pensions.
The researchers’ analysis highlighted the contrast between “cohabiting” Swedish women and “lone” Swedish women. However, the researchers define their terms somewhat peculiarly: “Cohabitation meant either married or cohabiting with children in common. Thus, if they were cohabiting without children in common, [the women in the study] were classified as lone.”
Even if the terminology is disorienting, the statistical results are clear: those results indicate that in the short run “cohabiting working mothers” enjoyed “a beneficial health effect,” evident in notably low DP rates among these women, a health effect “which may be explained by a protective effect of social integration provided by living with a partner and children.” However, in the long run, out-of-home maternal employment takes its toll: in the five-year follow-up data, the researchers found that “cohabiting working mothers were at a higher risk of receiving a DP compared with those without children.”
But the most markedly elevated Disability Pension rates emerge not among “cohabiting” women but rather among “lone” women. “Overall,” the researchers report, “lone women showed higher H[azard]R[isks] than cohabiting women, and among employed lone women, the HR was highest for those who had children.” The researchers acknowledge that their finding that “lone working mothers had the highest risk of DP both in the short and long term” is “in line with expectations.” After all, “Previous studies have clearly pointed out the vulnerability of this group, which may be explained by the heavy workload and greater responsibility that is shouldered by many of these women, as well as weak financial resources.”
Summarizing their findings, the researchers conclude, “A considerable part of the social expenses due to DP should be attributed to lone working women with children. Their illness and decreased work capacity have implications not only for the mothers but probably also for the children.” American policymakers should recognize this study’s cautionary implications: policies that promote maternal employment while inhibiting marriage will cost the country dearly.
(Birgitta Floderus et al., “Disability Pension among Young Women in Sweden, with Special Emphasis on Family Structure: A Dynamic Cohort Study,” BMJ Open 2.3 [May 30, 2012]: e000840.)
Peace—in the (Intact) Family Circle
Everyone wants peace, but those who voice their desire for peace most loudly are typically seated on the political left. However, a study of the social circumstances most conducive to peace highlights the importance of a social pattern—namely, the intact family—most often affirmed by those on the political right.
The national media gave front-page coverage to the state-by-state ranking included in the 2012 Peace Index released in April by the Institute for Economics and Peace, an independent, nonprofit research organization with offices in Sydney, New York, and Washington, D.C. Journalists paid close attention to the Institute’s statistical judgment—based on statistics for violent crime and other measures of civic peace—that Maine is America’s most pacific state and Louisiana is the least pacific. Journalists likewise took note of the economic issues the Institute outlined in its analysis: “Violence and violence containment cost the average taxpayer $3,257 each year,” the analysts explained. “If all the states in the U.S. had the same level of peacefulness as the most peaceful state (Maine), the total economic effect would be over 274 billion dollars.”
Journalistic attention waned, however, when researchers teased the theoretical implications out of their findings. Consequently, not too many newspaper editors reported the reasoning of the Institute researchers, who explained that “peaceful states” tend to offer their residents “more economic opportunities, better provision of basic services and higher levels of educational attainment” than do violent states. Nor did most editors share with their readers much information about the “strong correlation between social capital and peace” because that would have meant explaining the term “social capital” as a theoretical composite of the aggregate impulses manifest in more peaceful states tend to “a better sense of community, and higher rates of volunteerism.”
But one of the findings in the fine print deserved to be trumpeted loudly: strong families foster social peace. In their statistical analysis of the various economic, political, and social characteristics that accounted for the relative levels of peace and violence in the fifty states, the researchers stumbled across this politically inconvenient truth: “The single strongest correlation was with the percentage of children living in single parent families.” That is, states where the percentage of children living in single-parent families ran low were peaceful; states where the percentage of children living in single-parent families ran high were violent.
This important finding apparently comes as unwelcome news for the researchers themselves. For though they acknowledge this finding, they entirely omit it in their summary outline of the “eight key structures of peace, which when in place, should allow a country to reduce and avoid direct violence.” Indeed, not one of these eight structures—certainly not “well-functioning government,” nor “equitable distribution of resources,” nor “acceptance of the rights of others,” nor “ free flow of information,” nor “sound business environment,” nor “good relation with neighbours,” nor “high levels of education,” nor “low levels of corruption”—holds much promise of reducing the number of children living in single-parent families by strengthening marriage and family. Truth is, a marriage-subverting left-wing orthodoxy is now prevalent among social scientists who do analyses like the one the Institute just released, so prevalent that these avowed pacifists would probably fight like hell rather than acknowledge the need for a new marriage-centered political agenda.
(The Institute for Economics and Peace, 2012 United States Peace Index, April 2012, pp. 11, 15, 29, 36.)
Generating Social Capital in Canada
Many sociologists resist the verdict, but the empirical data continue to establish that the married-parent family is the social ideal; it consistently and independently delivers a wide range of social goods. The latest evidence comes from a study conducted at the University of Alberta, a study that explains why society has a vested interest in increasing the number of intact married families and reducing the number of single-parent and cohabiting households: not only do these families function better internally but they also strengthen the broader community through maternal volunteerism. Moreover, the neighborhoods where intact families reside are stronger and more cohesive.
Analyzing data representing 6,223 households from the first wave (1994) of the Canadian National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth, Joshua Freistadt and Lisa Strohschein establish that stably married, two-biological-parent households stand in a class by themselves. When compared to stable cohabiting two-biological-parent households or stable single-biological-mother households, married-parent families scored significantly higher on the McMaster Family Assessment Device, an instrument that measures the level of communication, trust, support, and conflict in a household. This robust pattern remained statistically significant even when controlling for a wide range of a demographic characteristics.
Moreover, the researchers found that married mothers generate significantly more “social capital” than do single or cohabiting mothers. These mothers reported significantly more involvement in school activities, church groups, and community organizations (social involvement); they also reported greater trust, reciprocity, and cohesion in their immediate community (neighborhood cohesion).
These findings illustrate how the entire community disintegrates when the family breaks down. Yet the real insight of the study emerged when the Canadian sociologists set up interaction tests to measure the effects of the two social-capital measures on family functioning. When the researchers looked at maternal involvement and at neighborhood cohesion, they found that each predicted higher levels of family functioning. However, they also found that neither of these variables accounted for the significant disparities in family functioning separating intact families from cohabiting-couple and single-parent households. Only one disparity shrank when the researchers scrutinized these two variables: higher levels of social cohesion translated into high levels of family functioning for both married- and cohabiting-parent households. Elevated levels of social cohesion did not, however, translate into significantly improved family functioning for single-mother households.
Because of their findings, the researchers “confidently assert that these differences [in family functioning] stem from the respective family structures themselves.” They also concede, “Policy efforts to improve extra-familial social capital among certain households may deliver few rewards.” Yet they remain curiously reluctant to embrace the natural family, lamenting that their methodology of using married-parent families as their reference category “unwittingly reinforces this category as the gold standard and overlooks the fact that families are embedded in external contexts that might be used to improve their internal relations.”
If they adopted the gold standard that their findings validate, Freistadt and Strohschein would not need to search for “eternal contexts” to prop up households that lack a marital foundation.
(Joshua Freistadt and Lisa Strohschein, “Family Structure Differences in Family Functioning: Interactive Effects of Social Capital and Family Structure,” forthcoming in Journal of Family Issues.)
From Divorce Court to Hospital Ward
At a time when runaway medical costs hold the national economy hostage, perhaps Americans need to turn off the Age of Aquarius soundtrack and soberly discuss the terrible costs of the nation’s Sexual Revolution and the consequent meltdown of marriage and family life. As material that might help facilitate such discussion, a study by health scholars at Boston University establishes that hospitalization rates climb when men do not marry—or do not stay married.
Acknowledging that “in the 30 days after hospital discharge, hospital utilisation is [both] common and costly,” the Boston researchers set out to determine the social predictors of such utilization by parsing data collected through Project Re-Engineered from 737 English-speaking hospitalized adults from general medical service in an urban, academic safety-net medical center. Gender defined the researchers’ primary focal point for inquiry, and gender does significantly affect post-discharge hospital use: the data indicate that “men have a higher rate of hospital utilisation within 30 days of hospital discharge than women.”
But the data indicate that rates for readmission to the hospitalization reflect more than gender. Marital status emerges as an important predictor of such re-admission. The researchers report that risk factors for a man’s readmission to the hospital included being unmarried, whose Incidence Rate Ratio relative to married peers was striking. In part because of this particular finding, the researchers identify “social isolation” as a likely reason that men are significantly more likely than women to be readmitted to the hospital within thirty days of discharge. After all, they note, previous studies have established that “in general, men are more socially isolated than women and that this contributes to worse health outcomes among men.”
When patients discharged from the hospital are re-admitted within a month, the consequent medical costs run high—as high as $17.4 billion just among Medicare patients in 2004, according to a study the researchers cite. The researchers consequently have reason to scrutinize the provisions of the Affordable Care Act that are intended to reduce the incidence of such re-admission, provisions that include “multiple provisions designed to improve care transitions. The act includes both funding to stimulate hospitals and community-based providers to coordinate post-discharge services and a programme to withhold payments, of progressively increasing amounts, to hospitals that demonstrate higher rates of readmission within 30 days after discharge.” Still, the researchers admit that “the extent to which readmissions are preventable is debated.”
“However, given the magnitude of the problem,” the researchers reason, “even a moderate reduction in unnecessary readmissions could have a large economic impact.” To that end, the researchers call for “interventions targeting factors at the root of this phenomenon,” highlighting particularly the need to address the social isolation that leaves men more likely to be re-admitted to the hospital after a discharge.
In their attempts to get “at the root” of the problem of hospital readmissions, the researchers have not one word to say about the national retreat from wedlock, a retreat that their own data implicate as a cause of the medical problem they are probing. If Americans are serious about dealing with medical costs, it is time to stop hacking at leaves while pretending to get at roots. It is time to talk frankly about our national retreat from marriage and family life as a prime reason that the United States is fast moving toward medical bankruptcy.
(Shaula Woz et al., “Gender as Risk Factor for 30 Days Post-Discharge Hospital Utilisation: A Secondary Data Analysis,” BMJ Open 2.2 [April 18, 2012]: e000428.)
Broken Homes, Broken Bones
Emergency-room doctors see more than their share of children from broken homes. The linkage between children’s risk of suffering accidental injury and their family background stands out clearly in a study conducted at the University of Nottingham. Acutely aware of the human cost of accidental injuries among children, the researchers begin their analysis:
Childhood injury is largely preventable, yet continues to be a significant public health issue. Globally an estimated 2,400 children die every day due to injury and violence and many more are disabled or require substantial medical intervention. In high income countries injuries still account for 40% of all child deaths between age 1–14.
To identify the circumstances that put children particularly at risk of injury, the Nottingham scholars analyze data collected from 255 general practices across England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland with 3.9 million patient records. The data of interest to the researchers are those for children under age 5 with a first medically recorded injury—whether that injury is “thermal injury” (i.e., burns), bone fractures, or poisoning. As the researchers scrutinize these data, family background emerges as a significant statistical predictor of children’s accident risk. Looking specifically at “thermal injuries,” the researchers report, “Children living in 2-adult households had a lower odds of injury compared with those in single adult households” (Odds Ratio, 0.90; 95 percent Confidence Interval, 0.83–0.97).
Turning their attention to bone fractures, the researchers similarly conclude that “the odds of fracture decreased . . . in households with 2 adults compared with single adult households” (Odds Ratio, 0.88; 95 percent Confidence Interval, 0.82–0.95). Though a similar pattern appeared in the simple bivariate assessment of poisoning, the relationship between injury and family composition fell below the level of statistical significance in the more sophisticated model taking into account such background variables as maternal age, parental use of tobacco, and socioeconomic deprivation.
When the researchers indicate that their “findings highlight further opportunities for childhood injury prevention,” they do not spell out fully what these opportunities might be. However, any sober reading of the study would suggest that the opportunities that matter most would include those that foster enduring parental marriages.
(Elizabeth Orton et al., “Independent Risk Factors for Injury in Pre-School Children: Three Population-Based Nested Case-Control Studies Using Routine Primary Care Data,” PLoS One 7.4 [April 5, 2012]: e35193.)
Gender Equality: Formula for Mental Illness
When parents embrace the ideal of gender equality, their children enjoy the best possible mental health. They must. All the progressive commentators say so. Unfortunately, empirical science has just delivered a rude shock to the progressive dreamers, as public-health officials in left-leaning Sweden established that gender-equality between parents fosters mental pathology in adolescent children.
This linkage was the last thing the researchers were looking for. Indeed, the researchers began their study with the understanding—fostered by their colleagues’ scholarship—that “gender equality between parents is good for the children.” Their interest was the impact of parental gender equality on the well-being of adolescent females. For as they surveyed professional literature indicating that “females generally suffer more from mental ill-health conditions than males,” the researchers understandably supposed that “the search for explanations should consider the gender system.”
Their attempt to understand adolescent psychopathology focused on data collected for 54,282 Swedish boys and 51,504 Swedish girls born in 118,595 Swedish homes between 1988 and 1989. The researchers’ concern for the effect of household gender arrangements on young females seems justified, as their data reveal that “girls consume around twice as much outpatient mental care in the ages 13–18 years, and drugs due to anxiety and depression in the ages 17–20 years, than boys.”
To assess the gender equality of these young Swedes’ parents, the researchers examined parental-leave data, discerning “gender equality” in households in which “each parent took at least 40% and at most 60% of the total parental leave” and as “gender inequality” in households in which they found “one parent taking less than 20% (and hence the other parent more than 80%) of the parental leave days.”
But the expectation that parental gender equality would foster mental health in children was not borne out by the data. Quite otherwise. When the researchers take the use of psychotropic drugs as their indicator of mental illness, they find—to their surprise—that “girls with very traditional, rather traditional and untraditional parents have lower risks than girls with gender-equal parents.” It may come as some consolation to progressive theorists that Swedish girls apparently enjoy good mental health when reared in “untraditional” households in which fathers are the primary care-givers. But what can these theorists say about the finding that Swedish girls growing up with gender-equal parents are far more reliant on psychotropic drugs than are peers growing up in “very traditional and somewhat traditional” gender arrangements?
The problems these findings pose for progressive theorists only grow more acute when the focus shifts to Swedish boys: in data for outpatient care for depression, “boys with very traditional parents are shown to have a 43% lower risk than boys with gender-equal parents.” The data for the boys do not indicate the same favorable outcomes of “untraditional” gender arrangements found for the girls. In other words, only “traditional” parental gender roles seem to protect the mental health of boys.
It is hard to imagine a more ideologically provocative conclusion than one establishing that parental “gender equality” puts the psychological health of both male and female children at risk. But that is exactly the conclusion that the researchers deliver:
The overall finding was that boys with gender traditional parents (mother dominance in childcare) have lower risk of depression measured by outpatient mental care than boys with gender-equal parents, while girls with gender traditional and gender untraditional parents (father dominance in childcare) have lower risk of anxiety measured by drug prescription than girls with gender-equal parents.
Nor is this a conclusion that progressive theorists will easily explain away. Labeling their findings as “robust,” the researchers report that they persist even in sophisticated statistical models that take into account numerous background variables, including household income, parental education, number of siblings, and foreign birth. What is more, the findings remain essentially unchanged in “a set of sensitivity analyses, such as excluding parents who had been in institutional care due to psychosis, depression, anxiety, and alcohol-related diagnoses instead of controlling for this information, and altering the reference group from equal parents to very traditional parents.” Even the most adept statistical dancers will find it hard to pirouette away from these findings.
Given the explosive and politically incorrect nature of their conclusions, it is entirely predictable that the researchers would “recommend that the study . . . be considered tentative while waiting for support or contradiction in future research.” But only the ideologically reckless will ignore these findings by exposing young people—male or female, Swedish or American—to the dangerous social experiment of so-called gender equality.
(Lisa Norström, Lene Lindberg, and Anna Månsdotter, “Could Gender Equality in Parental Leave Harm Off-springs’ Mental Health? A Registry Study of the Swedish Parental/Child Cohort of 1988/89,” International Journal for Equity in Health 11 [March 2012]: 19.)
Sweden No Paradise for Young Adults
The progressive government of Sweden promises health and well-being, as well as economic security, to all. Yet a study by social scientists in Spain and Sweden finds not all is well in the socialist paradise. Documenting a “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults there—a decline related to increased rates of parental divorce—the study establishes that the link between parental divorce in childhood and psychological distress in adulthood remains as robust as it was forty years ago.
Using longitudinal data from two waves (1968 and 2000) of the Swedish Level of Living Survey, Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga compare the impact of parental divorce on the psychological adjustment of 19- to 34-years from two generations of Swedes (the first born between 1934 and 1949; the second between 1966 and 1981). Their findings put to rest the notion—widely advanced among progressive scholars—that as alternative family forms have become more prevalent and accepted, as they are in this European haven, the negative impact of parental divorce on children has faded.
Reviewing their descriptive findings, the researchers found that the occurrence of experiencing parental divorce or separation was four times more likely among the younger cohort of Swedes (21 percent) than the older cohort (5 percent). Likewise, while only one-fourth of the older cohort reported psychological distress as measured with six variables in 1968, nearly one-half (45 percent) of the younger cohort reported such distress in 2000. Stating the obvious, Gähler and Garriga note: “Psychological problems have increased substantially among young Swedes during recent decades.”
Using multivariate analysis, the researchers are able to place the blame for this increased angst squarely where it belongs. Controlling for gender, age, country of origin, and parental education, they established that among respondents of each generation, those who grew up in a broken home were more likely to suffer from emotional problems in adulthood than were peers from an intact family. In the older generation, the risk of emotional pathology ran twice as high among the adult children from broken homes as it did among peers from intact families. In the younger cohort, the relative risk of such pathology fell almost by half among the adult children of broken homes. However, despite this sharp fall in the relative risk, the correlation between family structure and emotional pathology remained statistically significant (p < 0.01) for both age cohorts.
Moreover, a pooled-data analysis revealed no statistically significant reduction in the magnitude of the negative parental-divorce impact on young adults between the generation of 2000 and that of 1968. As the two sociologists write: “Individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1966–1997 do not report a higher psychological well-being as 19- to 34-year-olds, compared to individuals from an intact family background, than do corresponding individuals whose parents divorced during the period 1934–1965.”
Identifying mediating factors, the researchers found that economic hardship and family dissension were each associated with psychological impairment in adulthood, regardless of family structure in childhood. Yet both were significantly more prevalent in childhood among respondents from broken homes than among those from married-parent households in both generations.
Though it may disappoint those who think government programs can level the playing field, the researchers found that the economic disparities between both family types did not lessen between 1968 and 2000, a period when the Swedish welfare system stepped up its income-redistribution efforts. To be sure, respondents from both family types reported less economic hardship in 2000, but the decline among respondents from intact families who reported economic hardship in childhood (from 13 percent to 8 percent) was relatively greater than the decline among respondents from non-intact families (from 31 percent to 21 percent).
Another irony: the social scientists found that reports of serious family dissension had increased among respondents from intact families between the two generations (from 8 percent to 11 percent) but decreased among their peers from a dissolved family (from 60 percent to 43 percent). The researchers explain this curious pattern by suggesting that a greater percentage of divorces a generation ago were initiated for more substantial reasons than is the case now and that divorcing parents do more today to shield their children from parental conflict. Yet the relative prevalence in recent years of so-called amicable divorce does not compensate for the reality that among this generation of Swedes, those who suffer parental divorce are four times more likely to report serious family discord than their peers with married parents.
Given these outcomes, Gähler and Garriga have every reason to lament the “deterioration of psychological well-being” among young adults in Sweden. Now if only scholars and policymakers in America would do the same, and look to the strengthening of the family—not the welfare state—as the answer.
(Michael Gähler and Anna Garriga, “Has the Association Between Parental Divorce and Young Adults’ Psychological Problems Changed Over Time? Evidence from Sweden, 1968–2000,” forthcoming in Journal of Family Issues.)
Children Get Stuck in Revolving-Door Families
When they live in a stable family, young children are prepared for success and good conduct in school. Young children are primed for failure and disruptive behavior, however, when they live in a protean family that changes shape through divorce, remarriage, and melding with some other fractured family. Such are the sobering implications of a study by sociologist Paula Fomby of the University of Colorado, Denver.
To assess the relationship between young children’s family life and school readiness, Fomby pored over data collected in the United Kingdom for a nationally-representative sample of children born in 2000 and 2001, drawing these data from interviews with parents when the child was nine months, three years, and five years old. Data on the impact of family instability was not lacking, since “about 20 percent of children in the analytic sample had experienced at least one family structure change by [the parent interview when the child was 5].” Of course, changes in family structure—divorce, loss of spouse through death, remarriage, marriage after cohabitation, cohabitation after divorce—are all family transitions.
In any case, Fomby finds in her simplest statistical analysis that “family instability was significantly negatively associated with each domain of cognitive achievement.” More specifically, Fomby found that among children born to married parents, “each family structure transition . . . predicted picture-similarities score by nearly one point (p < 0.05) and reduced children’s naming vocabulary scores and pattern construction scores by more than two points (p < 0.001).”
Nor is it just children’s cognitive abilities that are affected by family instability. Such instability also affects children’s emotional well-being and behavioral discipline. Fomby reports that in her simplest statistical models, “family instability is positively associated with a child’s emotion symptoms and conduct problems (p < 0.001).” More particularly, Fomby calculates that among children born to married parents, every family-structure transition translates into an increase in emotion-symptoms score of approximately 13 percent and a rise in conduct-problems score of about 18 percent.
Of course, family stability does not mean the same thing for a child born to a single mother or a cohabiting couple that it means to a child born to married parents. In fact, Fomby establishes that “being born to cohabiting parents or a single parent had independent negative effects on each domain of cognitive achievement on the order of one-third to one-half of a standard deviation (p < 0.001)” (emphasis added). And, quite understandably, Fomby found that among children born to single mothers, “subsequent family structure transitions were less consequential for children’s naming vocabulary and pattern-construction scores, supporting the contention that the effect of subsequent family change depends on one’s starting point.”
Data from children born to cohabiting parents further clarify the way a household’s starting point influences the effect of subsequent family change. Indeed, Fomby reports that “such children who experienced later family change appeared to have better verbal ability than those whose parents remained in a cohabiting union.” Apparently, for children born in the social pit of cohabitation, family change is better than family stability.
Fomby tested her initial findings by re-running her data through a multivariate statistical model taking into various account the individual characteristics of the mothers and children. In this more sophisticated model, some of the linkages between family instability lost statistical significance as the consequence of the distinctive poverty and educational deprivation of the households experiencing family instability.
However, even in this multivariate model, Fomby still limned a significant connection between family instability and children’s verbal skills, with “each family structure transition associated with about a one-point decrease in a child’s predicted naming vocabulary score.” Also persistent in this model was the linkage between family instability and children’s behavioral problems, with “a significant (p < 0.05) positive association between family instability and children’s conduct problems remain[ing] in the full model such that each family structure transition a child experienced increased a child’s predicted conduct problems score by about six percent.”
Fomby interprets her findings as “consistent” with previous studies, which have also shown that “family instability is associated with children’s verbal ability and conduct problems in early and middle childhood.” Seeing her own study as part of a larger pattern, Fomby remarks:
The persistent association of family instability with children’s conduct problems and verbal ability calls out for a theoretical focus that can address why the behaviors and skills that enable children to communicate effectively and productively with peers and adults are compromised in the context of family instability.
For Americans who care about the well-being of children, what this study—and others like it—most insistently calls for is a renewed cultural and policy focus on the kind of enduring marriages that promise children a stable family life.
(Paula Fomby, “Family Instability and School Readiness in the United Kingdom,” Family Science 2.3 [March 12, 2011]: 171–85.)
Matrimony vs. the Marlboro Man
Only a negligent physician would fail to warn a pregnant woman or new mother of the dangers of smoking. But only a married woman seems likely to listen to such warnings. Indeed, the effects of an intact marriage in fortifying pregnant women and new mothers against tobacco use stand out clearly in a study conducted at the National Institute of Health in Italy. Beginning their study of tobacco use among pregnant women and new mothers keenly aware that smoking harms such pregnant women, new mothers, and their offspring, the Italian researchers note:
Smoking is one of the most important avoidable causes of disability, mortality, and adverse maternal and fetal outcomes in Western countries. During recent decades, researchers have studied the adverse effects of smoking on conception, pregnancy, fetal, and child health. The associated adverse outcomes include low birth weight, reduced fetal growth, placenta previa, preterm birth, respiratory infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, and hyperkinetic disorders.
Unfortunately, the researchers acknowledge, “tobacco use by pregnant women remains an important problem considering that the prevalence is far from the 2% goal in healthy people fixed in 2010 in the USA.”
To understand the reasons that tobacco use remains unacceptably high among pregnant women and new mothers, the scholars analyze data collected from 3,534 women receiving prenatal, delivery, and postpartum care from twenty-five Italian local health units (LHUs). Their analysis highlights a clear and strongly inverse relationship between breastfeeding and smoking among new mothers. “Women who are breastfeeding smoke less than not breastfeeding women,” the researchers conclude, “even after controlling for other predictors” (Odds Ratio, 0.43).
But breastfeeding is not the only practice that protects against maternal tobacco use; the wearing of a wedding ring is another. “Tobacco use before pregnancy,” the researchers report, “was more likely for unmarried [than for] married women” (Odds Ratio, 2.30). In other words, unmarried pregnant women are almost two-and-a-half times as likely as married peers to smoke. What is more, the researchers find that when married women do smoke at the beginning of pregnancy, they are more than twice as likely to quit the habit as are unmarried peers. “Quitting was less likely for unmarried women” than for married women, report the researchers, who calculate an Odds Ratio of 0.38.
America’s chief executive professes a strong desire to improve the health of the nation’s citizens. And then, when not smoking in a private room, he wages war on wedlock. Anyone who understands this study will recognize the baleful consequences of such incoherence—in Rome or in New York.
(Laura Lauria, Anna Lamberti, and Michele Grandolfo, “Smoking Behaviour Before, During, and After Pregnancy: The Effect of Breastfeeding,” The Scientific World Journal [March 2012]: 154910.)
How the Single Life Cuts African-American Lives Short
Why are African Americans much less likely to live to age 70 than are American whites? According to a team of Stanford medical scholars, the evisceration of wedlock as a social institution within the black community is a depressingly relevant reason that far too few African Americans live out their biblical “three score and ten” years.
To clarify social patterns in longevity, the Stanford researchers extracted data from the Compressed Mortality Files maintained by the Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. With these data, they calculated the probability of survival to age 70 for white males, white females, black males, and black females. These calculations highlight a disturbing inequity: African Americans are 17 percent less likely to live to age 70 than are white Americans. It particularly unsettles the researchers that a disparate number of African Americans die while still “in the prime, economically productive years of life.”
When the researchers bring more sophisticated statistical tools to bear on the data, they find that “most of the black-white gap” in survival rates can be traced to “differences in these well-known socio-economic and environmental variables, with poverty, low education and single marital status appearing particularly disparate between the races.” The racial gap in marital status particularly attracted the attention of the researchers, who report: “In multiple-regression statistical models, marital status was a significant (p < 0.01) predictor of likelihood of living to age 70 for males and females, blacks and whites.” The researchers acknowledge that “the impact of marital status [on longevity] is not a new observation”; it is, in fact, an observation “highly consistent with expectations from prior work.” Nonetheless, the Stanford scholars still believe “the consistency of the [marital-status] effect across race and sex groups is noteworthy.”
Progressives like to style themselves as the defenders of minorities. But they may shrink from the implications of this study, as these same progressive thinkers have led the way in dismantling wedlock as a vital American social institution, exposing all Americans—especially blacks—to the lethal perils of life without wedlock.
(Mark R. Cullen, Clint Cummins, and Victor R. Fuchs, “Geographic and Racial Variation in Premature Mortality in the U.S.: Analyzing the Disparities,” PLoS One 7.4 [April 17, 2012]: e32930.)
Long Life: Money, Matriculation, or Marriage?
What life circumstances are most important in fostering longevity? When researchers at the University of West Virginia Medical School set out to answer this question, they focused primarily on education and household income as statistical predictors of long life, finally concluding that household income matters, more than does educational attainment, as a safeguard against premature death. However, the researchers bumped into another significant predictor of longevity: namely, marital status. For despite all of the cultural and social changes surrounding wedlock in recent decades, the latest data still show that married men and women live significantly longer than do their single peers.
After poring over data collected from a national probability sample of 15,646 men and women ages 20 and older, the researchers discern clear evidence that “income may be a stronger predictor of mortality than education.” However, their data also indicate that “being never married” was “positively associated with all-cause mortality” (Odds Ratio, 1.34; p = 0.03). Apparently leaving the divorced in an “others” category, the researchers documented an even more sharply elevated all-cause mortality risk for this group, exposed to mortality risks without the protection of an intact marriage (Odds Ratio, 1.48; p = 0.05).
A college diploma may offer some protection against premature death, and an ample bank account may afford even more such protection. But Americans who forego wedding vows are running a real risk—regardless of their educational or financial advantages—of early death.
(Charumathi Sabanayagam and Anoop Shankar, “Income Is a Stronger Predictor of Mortality than Education in a National Sample of U.S. Adults,” Journal of Health, Population, and Nutrition 30.1 [March 2012]: 82–86.)
Marriage as Mental Medicine—Even for Quite Young Couples
As the average age at which men and women tie the knot has climbed in recent decades, social scientists have wondered whether the psychological benefits associated with wedlock might not be fading for those couples who buck the trend and marry young. Because marriage at a young age (before 25) is no longer normative (as it was in the 1950s), some social theorists fear that early marriage may damage the mental health of younger couples. But a study conducted by Jeremy E. Uecker of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has quashed such fears: while the psychological benefits of marriage now appear most pronounced among couples who marry in their mid-twenties, wedlock still enhances mental health in a number of notable ways for couples who are younger when they tie the knot.
Uecker launched his study specifically to test the notion that “early marriage, which is nonnormative, could have no, or even negative mental health consequences for young adults.” To gauge the mental health consequences of wedlock, Uecker parsed data collected between 1995 and 2002 from a nationally representative sample of 11,695 young people. In these data, Uecker finds evidence that “in general, marriage in young adulthood is not detrimental.” Indeed, Uecker concludes that “marriage’s mental health benefits are apparent, at least in many ways, among young adults who have married at a relatively early age.”
Even in the least impressive of wedlock’s benefits—namely, reduction of psychological distress—Uecker sees mental-health advantages that are “limited but not absent.” For although married couples “do not have a clear advantage [in levels of psychological distress] over young adults in any other type of romantic relationship,” these couples do experience “lower psychological distress than single young adults.”
A more substantial benefit of wedlock appears in the data on drinking. Uecker reports, “Singles and unengaged daters get drunk at more than twice the rate of ever married individuals, and unengaged cohabitors get drunk at about 1.80 times the rate,” net of statistical controls for background characteristics. The distinctive sobriety of married couples, Uecker believes, reflects the way marriage fosters “a heightened sense of responsibility and obligation and a less active social calendar, which leads to less drunkenness.”
But Uecker identifies an even more noteworthy benefit: “Married young adults,” he concludes, “are much more satisfied with their lives than are other young adults (with the possible exception of engaged cohabitors).” Uecker has a statistical reason for engaged yet cohabiting couples as a possible exception to his overall judgment about the advantage married couples enjoy in life satisfaction: the statistical gap separating ever-married men and women from engaged cohabiting peers does fall below the threshold of statistical significance in statistical models that take into account socioeconomic status. But since marriage itself affects socioeconomic status, this statistical adjustment seems dubious.
In any case, Uecker stresses that the “marriage premium for life satisfaction is strong and robust to a number of potentially explanatory factors.” In particular, Uecker asserts that “selection is not the key story here.” In other words, the advantage in life satisfaction evident among married couples cannot be explained as merely the consequence of people who are already more satisfied with life being more likely to marry than are people who are less satisfied with life. The statistical models make it clear that it is the experience of marriage itself that enhances life satisfaction.
Though some feminists have asserted that marriage benefits only men, that is not what Uecker sees in the data. Indeed, he finds that while the correlation between singleness and drunkenness is “positive for men” that correlation is “even more positive for women.” Similarly, while “cohabiting men reported lower satisfaction than ever married men . . . the effect was even more negative for unengaged cohabiting women.” Clearly, wedlock carries real benefits for women.
At a time of widespread psychological distress, this study confirms that marriage still offers remarkable protections for mental health.
(Jeremy E. Uecker, “Marriage and Mental Health Among Young Adults,” Journal of Health & Social Behavior 53.1 [March 2012]: 67–83.)
The Difference Fathers Make
The progressive thinkers who gave us guilt-free fornication and easy divorce never seemed to worry about the consequences when their social enthusiasms sentenced tens of millions of children into fatherless homes. But the mountain of research documenting the difficulty of growing up without a father just grew a bit higher with a study into the kind of family relationships that predict behavior problems among young adolescents. Conducted by psychologists at the University of Oregon, this study indicates clearly that children with weak ties to their fathers—typically children growing up in single-parent homes—are particularly prone to such behavioral problems.
Tracking 179 ethnically diverse young adolescent students (54 percent male, 46 percent female) from sixth through eighth grade, the Oregon researchers discerned a clear relationship between these young people’s family life and their behavior: “father–youth connectedness,” the researchers report, “was associated with decreases in youths’ problem behavior from 6th to 8th grade.” Indeed, this statistical linkage between father-connectedness and behavior persisted even in sophisticated statistical models accounting for differences in social and economic background. The researchers further explain that “the nature of associations between father–youth connectedness and youths’ outcomes did not differ by gender.” Interestingly, the researchers found that “mother–youth connectedness” was not a significant predictor of change in youths’ problem behavior, even in simple bivariate correlations.
Not surprisingly, the adolescent boys and girls who enjoy the strongest connection to their fathers—and who consequently improve the most in their behavior—are found in intact families. “Youths living with their biological fathers,” the researchers report, “felt more connected to them than did those who did not” (p < 0.01).
The researchers stress the importance of their findings because the young-adolescent period under scrutiny is “a period of increased risk for youths’ engagement in antisocial behaviors, substance use, and affiliation with deviant peers.” At a time when progressives’ Age-of-Aquarius fantasies continue to separate millions of young people from their fathers, Americans can expect to see a distressing number of young adolescents slashing tires, smoking marijuana, and joining gangs.
(Gregory M. Fosco et al., “Family Relationships and Parental Monitoring During Middle School as Predictors of Early Adolescent Problem Behavior,” Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology 41.2 [March 2012]: 202–13.)
The Wrong Time to Look for a Man
Before the sexual revolution, a young woman tended to put off intimate relations until after marriage, knowing that if she jumped the gun—and became an unwed mother—her chances of finding a suitable man to propose would drop precipitously. Why many women today think they can rewrite the dynamics of the marriage market is not clear. But a study by three American sociologists, including Sara McLanahan of Princeton, who analyze “repartnering” behavior of unmarried mothers, confirms that out-of-wedlock childbearing gives women little leverage in the mating game.
Looking at longitudinal data from the Fragile Families and Well Being Study of nearly 5,000 children born to mostly unwed parents in twenty large U.S. cities from 1998 to 2000, the researchers tracked the “relationship” status of unwed mothers at four points: at birth, one year after, three years after, and five years after birth. At the baseline, 52 percent of the mothers were cohabiting with the child’s father, 30 percent were dating the child’s father, and 18 percent were not romantically involved with the father. Five years after giving birth, the percentage of mothers living with the child’s father had declined to 38 percent while the percentage of mothers dating the father had declined to 3 percent. Yet 31 percent were involved with a new man (whether dating or living with him) while 29 percent were not romantically involved at all.
Focusing on the 69 percent of mothers that had broken off relationships with the child’s father sometime during the five-year period, the sociologists found the majority (55 percent) of these mothers-in-transition had “repartnered” with another man, including 32 percent that had “traded up” with a man having greater economic potential than the child’s father. As might be expected, all of these mothers-in-transition were looking for a man who would be a good provider. Yet 47 percent of these transitioning mothers were unable to repartner at all.
Attempting to find a silver lining in these bleak findings, the researchers’ analysis identify the predictors of “trading up,” including such things as being a younger mother, being employed, and having only one child, characteristics that made the unwed mother more marketable on the mating scene. Yet the sociologists—all members of the fairer sex—seem unwilling to acknowledge the elephant in the room: unwed childbearing. They don’t blame the inability of these women to establish a lasting relationship with a man on their out-of-wedlock childbearing but on “the limited pool of eligible partners accessible to this largely urban, sociologically disadvantaged population of mothers.” Yet surely there was no limited pool of eligible men when these mothers first became pregnant.
More problematic is the reality the researchers overlook: none of the mothers who were living with or dating the child’s father (and who represented 82 percent of all mothers at the time of childbearing) appear to have married the father at any time during the study. Neither the researchers’ terminology nor their data make it clear whether the partnership categories in view include marriage. If the analysis indeed does leave out of the picture the desirability of the mother’s marrying the father of her child, then it is an analysis that ignores a huge problem for both mother and child. Why the researchers seem so unconcerned with the chance that an unwed mother might have for marrying her child’s father, and instead focus on “repartnering,” remains a mystery.
(Sharon H. Bzostek, Sara S. McLanahan, and Marcia J. Carlson, “Mothers’ Repartnering after a Nonmarital Birth,” Social Forces 90.3 [March 2012]: 817–41.)
The Missing Plank of the GOP Platform:
Reclaiming Family-Wage Jobs in an Age of Globalization
Homeownership and Public Policy:
What Helps, and What Hinders, the American Dream
How the Erosion of American Family Life Fuels Illegal Immigration
Hilaire Belloc’s The Servile State:
A Centenary Reflection
Margaret Sanger and the Decline of Protestant Stock
Reviewed by D. G. Hart
Are We Better Off after the Pill?
Adam and Eve after the Pill
Reviewed by Janice Shaw Crouse
When First We Practice to Conceive
Reviewed by William C. Duncan