It has long been established that children who grow up with the benefit of being loved and raised by their married mother and father tend to do markedly better in all measures of educational attainment compared to their peers in any other family form.

Many scholars have asserted that any inequity in outcomes would equalize as single-parent families, cohabiting families, and stepfamilies became more common and less stigmatized. Well, they have certainly become more common and less stigmatized, but has this social change leveled the playing field in educational outcomes for children raised in various alternative families?

That is the precise question two leading scholars, Nicholas Zill and Brad Wilcox from the Institute for Family Studies, have recently explored, and their findings provide a definitive conclusion. In fact, they find that married mother/father families might actually be more beneficial to children’s educational outcomes than previously appreciated. Based on their new analysis, these scholars explain,

…[H]ailing from an intact, married family may now be a greater advantage for children than ever. In a world marked by more electronic distractions, greater social atomization, and a more anemic community life, having the benefit of two, loving parents may be more valuable than it was even a quarter-century ago for our nation’s children.

These scholars compared educational outcomes from two nationally representative social science surveys from the mid-1990s and the later 2010s. They report that “students from non-intact families continue to have nearly triple the risk of suspension and double the risk of grade repetition as students from intact, biological families” (emphasis added).

They further explain, “It is also noteworthy that family structure is at least as strong of a predictor of school suspensions, grade repetition, and student misbehavior as race – a factor that gets more attention in public discussions of student outcomes.”

These findings draw this research team to state,

But the odds of school success are more favorable for those from families headed by married, biological parents. In fact, our research lends additional credence to other research suggesting that family structure matters more than ever for the educational attainment of today’s children.

So has the decline in the stigmatization of alternative families in our culture over the last two decades lessened the poor educational outcomes of such families? It certainly appears not, with these scholars explaining, “Even though family instability is less stigmatized than it once was, this research brief indicates that the power of being raised by stably married parents is only increasing.”

Regardless of the rhetoric we regularly hear about “love makes a family” and “all family forms are equal if chosen with sincerity,” social science continues to tell a completely different story.

Married mothers and fathers have no close competitor in providing the good things children need.


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