Bernardo M. Villegas
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Get Married and Be Happy (Part III)

           Marriage benefits children in myriad ways:  Children reared in intact, married homes are significantly more likely to be involved in literacy activities such as being read to by adults or learning to recognize letters as preschool children, and to score higher in reading comprehension as fourth graders.  School-aged children are approximately 30 percent less likely to cut class, be tardy, or miss school altogether.  The cumulative effect of family structure on children’s educational performance is most evident in high school graduation rates.  Children reared in intact, married households are about twice as likely to graduate from high school, compared to children reared in single-parent or step-families.  One study found that 37 percent of children born outside marriage and 31 percent of children with divorced parents dropped out of high school, compared to 13 percent of children from intact families headed by a married mother and father.

          The evidence linking marriage to an impressive array of positive outcomes for children is overwhelming.  From a sociological perspective, marriage allows families to benefit from shared labor within the household, income streams from two parents, and the economic resources of two sets of kin.  A married mom and dad typically invest more time, affection, and oversight into parenting than does a single parent; as importantly, they tend to monitor and improve the parenting of one another, augmenting one another’s strengths, balancing one another’s weaknesses, and reducing the risk that a child will be abused or neglected by an exhausted or angry parent.  The trust and commitment associated with marriage also give a man and a woman a sense that they have a future together, as well as a future with their children.  This horizon of commitment, in turn, motivates them to invest practically, emotionally, and financially at higher levels in their children than cohabiting or single parents.

          Society is also benefited by marriage in the way it plays a crucial role in civilizing men.  There is much empirical evidence summarized in the publication cited above that married men are less likely to commit a crime, to be sexually promiscuous or unfaithful to a longtime partner, or to drink to excess.  They also attend church more often, spend more time with kin (and less time with friends), and work longer hours.  One study, for instance, showed that only four percent of married men had been unfaithful in the past year, compared to 16 percent of cohabiting men and 37 percent of men in an ongoing sexual relationship with a woman.  Longitudinal research by University of Virginia sociologist Steven Nock suggests that these effects are not an artefact of selection but rather a direct consequence of marriage.  Nock tracked men over time as they transitioned from single hood to marriage and found that men’s behaviors actually changed in the wake of a marriage:  after tying the knot, men worked harder, attended fewer bars, increased their church attendance, and spent more time with family members.  For many men, marriage is a rite of passage that introduces them fully into an adult world of responsibility and self-control.  All these scientific findings show that marriage is not only a most important source of individual happiness. It is also a factor for a harmonious and peaceful society. For comments, my email address is