The social sciences have long demonstrated that all family forms are not equal in terms of providing optimal benefits for children and society.
But a major new report from the scholars at the Institute for Family Studies (IFS) demonstrates in persuasive detail that the married mother/father family is even more powerful today in providing essential goods to children that ever before. University of Virginia sociologist Brad Wilcox explained to The Washington Post that “Kids benefit even more today from two parents than they did 16 to 40 years ago.”
As such research regularly comes off the academic presses however, the proportion of educated Americans who think family form doesn’t really matter all that much is growing. The first line of this report notes, “The share of American men and women who think that marriage and a stable family are not important for children in our contemporary world is growing” and they attribute this belief to “increasing progressive ideas about family diversity” and those “who discount the unique value of marriage” for building strong families, healthy children and thriving communities. The data bear this out. In 2006, 76% of Americans thought it was important for unmarried couples who have children to “legally marry.” That number fell to 60% in 2020.
The report also shows who gets this most wrong. Only 30% of college-educated liberals believe children are better off with a married mother and father while 91% of college-educated conservatives correctly believe this. This drastic diversity in belief is demonstrated in the following chart.
Facts Contradict Present “Elite Insight”
The IFS scholars assert,
A growing body of evidence not only contradicts the conventional wisdom, journalistic narratives, and academic assertions that a stable, married family is of little or no importance to children, but also indicates something quite different.
That difference is that married mother/father families matter more for children excelling in life than previous social science research and elite minds have ever realized. The IFS report states,
Recent research suggests that an intact family is increasingly tied to the financial, social, and emotional welfare of children – and family instability is more strongly linked to worse outcomes for kids than it used to be. The upshot for children is that marriage not only still matters, but it seems to matter more than ever. Children who have the benefit of two parents are comparatively more advantaged today than they were in previous decades.
The report documents that differences between children from single-parent and married-parent families in critical educational outcomes have doubled and tripled over the last few decades.
This means all other things being equal, children raised by only one parent are walking with a substantial limp in their academic careers compared to their significantly advantaged peers living with married moms and dads. And again, this inequity is growing wider. IFS reports that scholars studying this divide “found no evidence that the link between family structure and student outcomes is diminishing.”
Kids from intact homes are more than twice as likely to graduate from college and this disparity has grown even wider for Millennial off-spring compared to their peers in the Boomer cohort, as demonstrated here.
Regarding increased economic success, “Almost four-in-ten Millennials (42%) from intact families are affluent by the time they are in their mid-thirties, compared with 24% of their peers from non-intact families.” This married-family premium has only increased over the decades, with Boomer peers having benefited by having married parents, but to a lesser degree compared with Millennials. This report explains, “The gap among Boomers is smaller, with 36% of Boomers from intact families and 22% from non-intact families reaching affluence by their mid-thirties.”
The IFS scholars add to how powerful the married mother/father advantage is for our nation’s children regarding income,
After controlling for socioeconomic factors, Millennials’ odds of being in the third highest income bracket in their thirties are 77% higher for those who grew up in an intact family with both biological parents. For Boomers in their 30s, growing up in an intact family boosted their odds of being affluent by 42 percent.
Their report concludes, “We have yet more evidence—this time on the economic front—that the benefit of being raised in a stable, married family may be growing for children and young adults in the United States.”
It is time for all citizens, conservative and liberal, to recognize that all family forms are not created equal in terms of beneficial outcomes. Married mother and father families are dramatically better at producing greater benefits and the research only shows how this advantage is growing.
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