Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Get Married, Stay Married

Dutch painter Jan van Eyck's marriage painting of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife Giovanna Cenami
What is the best environment for raising children? A study by Washington and Lee University School of Law Robin Fretwell Wilson answers this question in the good old-fashioned way: Children do best raised in a stable family home with both of their parents, and all the scientific studies show that this is true. Wilson recently discussed her findings at the November 2008 Georgia Supreme Court Summit on Children, Marriage, and Family Law titled For Children's Sake: Get Married, Stay Married.

Her 2006 research review with University of Virginia sociologist Bradford Wilcox describes study after study showing poorer outcomes for children raised outside of stable two-parent families. For males, children raised outside of two-parent families are twice as likely to be incarcerated by age 30; a recent study of the entire Swedish population found that children raised outside of the traditional family structure are twice as likely to attempt suicide, engage in substance abuse, and suffer from depression. Studies elsewhere in the West show lower achievement in school, higher rates of teenage pregnancy and promiscuity, lower employability, and much reduced lifetime income. All of this research “controls” for socioeconomic factors, such as race, income, and, education. From the standpoint of social science research design, all of Wilson’s cited studies have been scrubbed, polished, vetted, and reviewed. The conclusion is hard science—or as hard as social science gets. And Wilson has piled it up in a mountain too huge for public officials to ignore.

Wilson notes that it is the family (a married mother and a father collaborating in the rearing of children), not the biology, that is the main factor in creating positive outcomes for children. The children of cohabitating biological parents shown less positive outcomes. Wilson also reviews studies showing that adopted children raised in traditional nuclear families are better off by all measured criteria than children raised in homes with a single biological parent. These findings are crucial to addressing the question of how the states should regulate the placement of children for adoption when biological parents can no longer care for them. Assuming that states should and must employ a “best interests of the child” standard to regulate adoptive placements (which, by law, all states now in fact claim to do), every effort must be made to place adoptive children in homes with two married parents.

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