“The number of families headed by married couples is a more powerful predictor of high school graduation and school suspension rates in Florida than are factors such as income, race and ethnicity,” according to “Strong Families, Successful Schools,” a new study released in September by the Institute for Family Studies. “Accordingly, policymakers, educators and civic leaders should work to strengthen families as well as schools,” concluded W. Bradford Wilcox, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Institute for Family Studies who shared his findings at an event hosted by Live the Life last month.
An organization dedicated to strengthening marriages and families, Live the Life brought together a panel of community leaders at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church to discuss the findings and promote change.
“More and more the conventional wisdom of our culture is that marriage doesn’t matter. From the media’s perspective, millennials have a laissez-faire view of family and increasingly see marriage as becoming obsolete. The problem is that is not true. Science tells us that marriage provides stability and communities benefit from strong, healthy families,” explained Wilcox. For example, kids from intact families are more likely to graduate college and be employed as adults.
However, Wilcox said the U.S. is increasingly “separate and unequal” when it comes to marriage. About 43 percent of first marriages end in divorce within the first ten years, but the college-educated are about two-thirds less likely to divorce compared to couples who are less educated. Therefore, children in working-class and poor communities are less likely to enjoy the benefits of growing up in an intact, married family.
One consequence of the growing marriage divide is that children are more likely to end up in a single-parent family, and these children are two to three times more likely to experience serious negative outcomes such as suicide, drug abuse and depression, delinquency or school failure, teen pregnancy or economic poverty and material hardship.
Not having a father’s influence in the home from an early age results in a much greater chance of teen pregnancy among daughters. And boys particularly seem to benefit more from being in a married household or committed household with the time, attention and income that brings.
And cohabitation isn’t helping either. Although it is an increasing trend, Wilcox said, “Children do not fare as well in cohabiting households as they do in married families. And cohabitation is now a bigger risk to children in the U.S. than divorce. In fact children living with a single parent and partner are much more likely to be physically, socially and verbally abused. Children are the most safe when raised by their biological parents.”
Despite the perception of freedom and flexibility, cohabiting unions tend to have less commitment, trust, sexual fidelity, more violence and less parental supportiveness than married unions
So why does marriage matter? Apparently kids thrive on stable routines with stable caregivers.
Intact marriage increases:
1) Economic resources available to children
2) Stable routines, stable caregivers, stable neighborhoods
3) More consistent attention, affection and discipline from parents
4) Biological relatedness of parents to children in the household
According to Wilcox, Florida is ranked 37th compared to other states for the share of children living with married parents (66%).
In his study of Florida counties, Wilcox found that when there were more married families in a county, there were few school suspensions and more high school graduates. In fact, the suspension rate was lower by 3.5 points for every 10 percentage-point rise in married-couple families, and there was a 4 percentage-point increase in graduation rates.
How does Broward County rank?
The second most populous county in Florida, Broward ranks among the top 10 counties for adult educational attainment and is above average in median family income. However, Broward is below average in the formation and maintenance of two-parent families, with 58 percent of households with school age children consisting of married couples. High school graduation rates in Broward average 74.8 percent, which is a middling rank compared to the high in Gilchrist County at 89 percent and the low of 49 percent in Jefferson County. Based on his findings, Wilcox said he believes Broward County’s high school graduation rate would probably be higher were more of its families headed by married parents.
What can be done?
For starters, Wilcox encouraged the community to do whatever they can to help families and particularly those in poor and middle class families.
Live the Life is holding an Adventures in Marriage class that helps couples discover better ways to meet one another’s needs, communicate, resolve conflicts, express anger, avoid dirty fighting, and understand how their personality styles impact relationships for better or worse on Friday, October 21 from 6 – 9 p..m and Saturday, October 22 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at Calvary Chapel Boca, 1551 West Camino Real, Boca Raton.
A HOPE Weekend marriage intensive is also being held October 14-16 in Fort Lauderdale. Hope Weekends combine Christian principles with the latest research to provide specific, practical, attainable skills to help couples strengthen their marriages.
For information, call 850-264-1495, email [email protected] or visit livethelife.org.