The Economist: marriage is still the best place for children

Marriage and family
Marriage and family

I stopped reading The Economist when they endorsed the socialist failure Barack Obama, who doubled the national debt to $20 trillion in only 8 years. However, even a stopped clock is right twice a day. And here is one of those times.


However, there is one big reason to worry about the quality and longevity of people’s intimate bonds. It is that relationships often produce children, and children are profoundly affected by how their parents get on.

You could make enough confetti for a summer of weddings with all the academic papers that show how much children gain from being brought up in stable, loving families, and how much they suffer when those families break down. Culture and customs make little difference. In Japan, four-fifths of single-parent households emerge when couples divorce—a much higher share than in the West, where people usually slip into single parenthood without marrying. Japanese children living with only one parent nonetheless perform significantly worse in school tests, just as children from single-parent families do in Europe and America. In poorer countries, family breakdown can kill. According to one recent estimate, the chance that an African child will die before turning five is about 25-30 per 1,000 for those born into stable families, but 35-40 per 1,000 for the children of single, divorced or widowed parents.

Marriage is not always good for children. They do not benefit when a parent marries somebody who is not their mother or father, and seem to suffer if the parent they live with cycles through several relationships. What they seem to need most is for their biological parents to stick together. And one strong claim that can be made for marriage is that it appears to glue parents together more tightly than any other arrangement.

This part is key, especially for those millennials who think that cohabitating before marrying makes the marriage more secure:

Analysis of one large American data set by Kathryn Edin and Laura Tach, two sociologists, shows that 27% of marriages broke down within nine years of a child being born. By contrast, among couples who were merely cohabiting when a child appeared, 53% separated within nine years—and most of the remaining 47% were married by that point. Among couples who were dating but not living together when the child was born, 81% had split up.

Again, this pattern runs across national and cultural borders. Cohabiting couples behave a bit more like married couples in countries where giving birth outside marriage is very common, such as Estonia and Norway. But they seldom attain the same level of stickiness as married couples, even after controlling for the mother’s level of education.

Cohabitation doesn’t work, because it’s basically saying that I’m going to try the other person and see if I like the other person, and that sex is required to know if I like the other person. It doesn’t really matter that you know the other person really well, because you can always get out of cohabitation just by leaving. Marriage says that I’m going to commit to the other person for life, through thick and thin. Here, both people tend to do a more thorough job of selecting their partner, perhaps even consulting fathers for advice. Why? Because getting out of a marriage is a lot harder to do, and more expensive.

In the past, I’ve blogged about some factors that can make your marriage pretty much divorce proof: things like chastity, not spending too much on the wedding, age of the man and woman at marriage, education levels of each spouse, number of people attending the wedding ceremony, isolation from other divorced people, church attendance, and so on. The truth is that you can engineer a marriage that’s practically divorce proof. But if you insist on spontaneity and following your heart, then you aren’t going to care what studies say works best. A stable marriage takes preparation, and that means making pro-marriage choices all throughout your life before your marriage, instead of doing what feels right to you in the moment. What feels good in the moment is almost never the right choice if your goal is a stable marriage.

5 thoughts on “The Economist: marriage is still the best place for children”

  1. My man. I love your work and pragmatic sensibility about the clear things of God. Be encouraged. I am a long time lurker, first time commenter.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Agreed! Marriage is devalued so much now, to placate the bitter divorcees. This “any family is a real family” hogwash and our hook up culture has devalued traditional marriage, one of children in wedlock with a married mom and dad, or two people devoted solely to each other till death do they part. I feel so fortunate to have two happily married parents, and grandparents as well until they parted. They taught me the value of a life long marriage to be honored and cherished. I hope one day to have my own fulfilling marriage, and my family have laid down that foundation for what to expect.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lady of reason. Off topic from this. But I will state that even though we talk against atheists here because as a theist I find it hard to understand. I wish the average atheist was represented by people like you.

      Christians and atheists like you could make a useful and functional society while still disagreeing on personal issues. If some of us complain against atheists it is those loud trolling, new atheist type group that are very intolerant of anyone thinking different and fear the thought of people being dumb enough to believe in a God

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks for your open mindedness! Even though I disagree on theological matters with my fellow religious conservatives, many of our social values do align and the only real difference is that I believe that we should embrace more traditional values not because of God telling us to do so, but because they are the most beneficial for society. I feel similarly as you do only about theists. Many are intolerant and close minded brow beaters, just as many atheists are angry and militant, but many are also open minded and tolerant and embrace the love taught by Jesus towards others, not the intolerant hatred of anyone different.


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