Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's in a Family?

Swedish artist Carl Larsson's Around the Lamp (1900)

What does marriage do for children? A 2006 study by legal scholars W. Bradford Wilcox from the University of Maryland School of Law and Robin Fretwell Wilson of the University of Virginia considers this question as it bears on state policies governing adoption. The weight of the social science, they report, is that children do better in homes with two married parents, as compared to single parent or cohabitating households. The evidence is so strong, in fact, that Wilcox and Wilson, urge that—as “the best interest of the child” is the clearly stated mandate for adoption practices (and not the needs or desires of the adoptive parents)—state adoption laws should clearly favor married couples, and even favor single parents over cohabitating couples. Today, only the state of Utah has a clear preference for married couples in its adoption laws. A number of states are neutral, and most assert no preference.

A sampling of the evidence in favor of two-parent married family (all studies cited have been controlled for confounding factors, including socioeconomic status):

§ A study of the entire Swedish population determined that children raised in one-parent families are twice as likely as those raised in two-parent homes to attempt suicide, suffer from substance abuse, and suffer from depression.

§ An American study found that males raised in one-parent families are twice as likely to commit a crime that leads to incarceration before they are 30 than males raised in two-parent families.

§ Another American study found that teenagers in one-parent families are three times more likely to use marijuana than teenagers raised in two-parent families.

§ Multiple studies have found that children living with two adults in a cohabitating relationship are more likely to experience behavioral problems at school, to suffer emotional problems, and to suffer from sexual or physical abuse from within the family. A study, done in Missouri, showed that preschool children living in cohabitating households were 50 times more likely to be killed than their counterparts living in married two-parent homes.

§ On the positive side, children raised in households with two married parents spend demonstrably more time engaged in activities with their fathers (or stepfathers), who are at home for more hours every week than non-married fathers. They have two sets of grandparents who are more likely to be involved in their lives.

Wilcox and Wilson also present compelling findings that marriage trumps biological connection in terms of positive outcomes for children, that is, children living with a married parent and a step-parent do better than children living with two biological parents who are cohabitating.


Linda said...

I disagree with having children living with their father and stepmother unless the mother is derelict. The possible exception might be boys as they get to their teen years. A child's relationship is different with their mother than with their father. I have been stepmother to two boys who lived with their father and me and have been the single mother to my daughter since she was 8. Even if my former husband had remarried, it would have been terrible for her to be separated from her mother and made her feel very insecure. If the mother is available, her love and presence are indispensable to a child. The mother in turn must ensure that she welcomes the father's love for her child or children and make that clear to both children and former husband. The worst situation for children is fighting divorced parents, which tears children into pieces.

Christina said...

Yes, I agree with you on the role of the mother. The Wilcox-Wilson study focused on adoption policy, and concluded that the research evidence shows that married couples should be favored for adoptive placement over cohabiting couples, and that even a single person wishing to adopt should be given a slight preference over cohabitating couples in the selection of adoptive parents. This study pertains only to adoption policies, and not to the question of child custody following a divorce of biological parents.