Why Marriage Matters 6

Why Marriage Matters 6

(Taken from “Twenty One Reasons why Marriage Matters,” by the National Marriage Coalition, found at www.marriage.org.au)

Physical Health and Longevity

10. Children who live with their own two married parents enjoy better physical health, on average, than do children in other family forms.

Divorce and unmarried child-bearing appear to have negative effects on children’s physical health and life expectancy. Longitudinal research suggests that parental divorce increases the incidence of health problems in chil­dren. The health advantages of married homes remain, even after taking socioeconomic status into account.

The health disadvantages associated with being raised outside of intact marriages persist long into adulthood. Even in Sweden, a country with extensive supports for single mothers and a nationalized health care system, adults raised in single-parent homes were more likely to report that their health was poor and/or to die (during the study period) than were those from intact homes; this finding remained after controlling for economic hardship.

One study which followed a sample of academically gifted, middle-class children for 70 years found that parental divorce reduced a child’s life expectancy by four years, even after controlling for childhood health status and family background, as well as personality character­istics such as impulsiveness and emotional instability.

Another analysis found that 40 year old men whose parents had divorced were three times more likely to die than were 40 year old men whose parents stayed married: “It does appear,” the researchers conclude, “that parental divorce sets off a negative chain of events, which contribute to a higher mortality risk among individuals from divorced homes.”

11. Parental marriage is associated with a sharply lower risk of infant mortality.

Babies born to married parents have lower rates of infant mortality. On average, having an unmarried mother is as­sociated with an approximately 50 percent increase in the risk of infant mortality.US studies show while parental marital status predicts infant mortality in both blacks and whites, the increased risk due to the mother’s marital sta­tus is greatest among the most advantaged: white mothers over the age of 20.

The cause of this relationship between marital status and infant mortality is not well known. There are many selection effects involved: Unmarried mothers are more likely to be young, black, less educated and poor than are married mothers. But even after controlling for age, race, and education, children born to unwed mothers generally have higher rates of infant mortality. While unmarried mothers are also less likely to get early prenatal care, infant mortality rates in these instances are higher not only in the neonatal period, but through infancy and even early childhood. Children born to un­married mothers have an increased incidence of both intentional and unintentional fatal injuries. Marital status remains a powerful predictor of infant mortality, even in coun­tries with nationalised health care systems and strong supports for single mothers.

12. Marriage is associated with reduced rates of alcohol and substance abuse for both adults and teens.

Married men and women have lower rates of alcohol consumption and abuse than do singles. Longitudinal research confirms that young adults who marry tend to reduce their rates of alcohol consumption and illegal drug use. Children whose parents marry and stay married also have lower rates of substance abuse, even after control­ling for family background.

Twice as many young teens in single-mother families and step families have tried marijuana (and young teens living with single fathers were three times as likely). Young teens whose parents stay married are also the least likely to experiment with tobacco or alcohol. Data from the National Household Survey on Drug Abuse show that, even after controlling for age, race, gender, and family income, teens living with both biological parents are significantly less likely to use illicit drugs, alcohol, and tobacco.

How does family fragmentation relate to teen drug use? Many pathways are probably involved, including in­creased family stress, reduced parental monitoring and weakened attachment to parents, especially fathers.

John Embling, from the Melbourne-based Families in Distress Foundation, is well aware of the harmful effects on children of parental break up. He has spent 30 years working with such children. Says Embling, “The children are in diabolical need. I could take you into these house­holds and show you what it’s like for kids to try to cope when mum is on drugs or drink, there’s no bloke around worth a cracker and primary school kids have to get themselves off to school.”

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