Stop the Presses! Marriage benefits children!

San Diego, CA–Writing in Volume 42 of the San Diego Law Review in 2005, then-University of Maryland law professor and feminist Robin Fretwell Wilson gave a masterful summary of existing social science data on the effects of marriage on children. And the data are clear – marriage is good for children. The link is here. And here is the link to Jim Wooten’s piece reporting on it in the December 9, 2008 edition of the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

Children of married couples are, on average, less likely to engage in delinquent behavior, less likely to be suspended or expelled from school and are more likely to go to college than are their peers without married parents.

The data go on to point out why children of married parents have better outcomes; married fathers are more involved in their children’s lives than are co-habiting fathers. “Obviously, marriage is differentiating the investment fathers make in their children,” and this is true “above and beyond the characteristics of the fathers themselves.”

In other words, the fact of marriage does not by itself select better fathers, it makes fathers better. And as we know from voluminous other data, children with engaged fathers have better outcomes across the board than do their fatherless peers.

Non-married relationships tend to be brief, with 90% lasting less than five years. During that time, children are worried about the tenuous nature of the adults’ relationship. And, since a father’s relationship with his child is “coterminus” with his relationship with the child’s mother, his emotional, psychological, financial and other investments in the child are heavily dependent on whether he’s married to her or not.

So what, if anything, should states do to promote marriage? Direct subsidies seem pointless and likely to fail because they encourage marriage by people who shouldn’t marry and for the wrong reasons. But educating couples about the value of marriage to children and teaching couples the skills required to form and sustain healthy marriages? Now that’s something states can and should do. As Wilson writes, “By supporting marriage, the state is supporting children.”

This is another huge set of data supporting fathers’ engagement with their children and rebutting the long-held assumptions that marriage is optional and divorce is an adult’s free choice. Neither is true. Fathers’ rights and children’s welfare are intimately intertwined.

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