Item from the Smart Marriages Archive, reproduced in the Divorce Statistics Collection

Why Marriage Matters

What's Marriage Got to Do With It?

Why Marriage Matters Series: No.1

This is the first in a series of essays by Glenn T. Stanton detailing the
importance and health of marriage in South Carolina.

Marriage is South Carolina's most valuable resource.
It is vital to the health of our society and its citizens. There is a wealth
of evidence supporting this conclusion. A century of social science
literature consistently reveals married men and women do significantly better
in all measures of well-being then any of their unmarried counterparts.
Married people are physically healthier, happier, live longer, enjoy better
mental health, are more fulfilled and less likely to suffer physical abuse.

Premarital cohabitation is no protection against conflict, abuse and divorce.
Instead, it greatly increases each. What is more, children raised by their
married, biological parents see marked benefits. They do better in school and
enjoy higher levels of physical and mental health. They are less likely to
break the law, have babies out of wedlock, and ever live in poverty. They are
also less likely to divorce or cohabit when they enter adulthood.

I. Benefits of Marriage for Adults
Dr. Robert H. Coombs, Professor of Behavioral Sciences at UCLA, conducted a
review of more than 130 published empirical studies measuring how marital
status affects personal well-being. He concluded that scientific
investigations, conducted from the 1930s to the present, "attest that married
people live longer and generally are more emotionally and physically healthy
than the unmarried."1 Coombs specifically looked at the areas of alcoholism,
suicide, morbidity and mortality, mental illness and self reports of

According to Coombs, "studies consistently found more alcoholism and problems
drinking among the unmarried than the married." Specifically, the separated
and divorced account for 70 percent of all chronic problems drinkers, while
marrieds account for only 15 percent. Single men are over 3 times more likely
to die of cirrhosis of the liver than marrieds. This is because married
adults "are more satisfied than the unmarrieds" Coombs explains.2

Coombs, literature review revealed, "empirical support extending back to the
19th century shows that the highest suicide rates occur among the divorced,
the widowed, and the never married and lowest among the married."3 The
intact family creates a cohesive, integrating effect on its members, which
serves as a strong deterrent to suicidal tendencies.

Morbidity and Mortality
It is also consistently found that "married people enjoy greater longevity
than the unmarried and generally make less use of health care services." 4
Coombs found that cures from cancer were 8-17% more likely for the married
and they also spend fewer days in bed due to acute illness. This means
married South Carolinians are less likely to tax the health care system and
more likely to be at work more days.

For women, being unmarried is more dangerous than being poor, twenty-pounds
overweight or having cancer. For men, heart disease can be added to this list
of risks.5 Surprisingly, it is not just companionship that makes the
difference, but the presence of a marriage license. Research done at UC San
Francisco found that those "who lived alone or with someone other than a
spouse had significantly shorter survival times compared with those living
with a spouse...the critical factor for survival was the presence of a

Psychiatric Problems
Coombs found that married people suffered from schizophrenia, depression or
any mental illness less often than the unmarried and when they did, their
recovery was more successful. The lowest rates for mental hospital admissions
were consistently found among the married and the "separated and the divorced
of both sexes experience particularly high mental health risks."7

Additional studies done jointly at Yale University and UCLA found the
"association between marital status and mental illness is robust and
generalizable" among both black and white populations.8

Self-Reported Happiness
Looking at self-reported happiness is an important indicator. It allows the
scientist to evaluate the individual,s measure of their own situation,
regardless of how others may grade it. Coombs found that "no part of the
unmarried population " separated, divorced, widowed, or never married "
describes itself as being so happy and contented with life as the married."9

Research published in Psychological Reports reveals that marrieds are less
likely to report feeling lonely than those of other marital status. This is
meaningful given loneliness was defined as "the absence or perceived absence
of satisfying social relationships" which the authors explain is "not
synonymous with aloneness, solitude, or isolation." In a random sample of
over 8,500 adults, the percentages of those feeling lonely are as follows:10

Marital Status % Lonely

Married 4.6
Never Married 14.5
Divorced 20.4
Widowed 20.6
Separated 29.6

The finding that married people are less lonely is "consistent with other
population-based studies of loneliness."11 This data flies in the face of
the popular notion that when people marry, they are removing themselves from
the satisfying social circle of the larger world to a life of drudgery,
boredom, and isolation. Just the opposite is true.

II. Cohabitation
Dr. Jan Stets, a leading scholar on cohabiting relationships found in
general, "Cohabiting couples compared to married couples have less healthy
relationships. They have lower relationship quality, lower stability, and a
higher level of disagreements."12 Work done at the Family Violence Research
Program at the University of New Hampshire found that "cohabitors are much
more violent than marrieds..." It was also found that the overall rates of
violence among cohabitors was double that of marrieds and "severe" violence
was five times as high for cohabitors.13

Stets also found that nearly three times as many cohabitors admitted
"hitting, shoving and throwing things at their partners in the past year"
compared to married couples. She also found that cohabitors are more likely
to "exhibit depression and drunkenness than married couples."14 Additional
research conducted at UCLA found that marriages preceded by cohabitation were
more prone to problems like "use of drugs and alcohol, more permissive sexual
relationships, and an abhorrence of dependence" than relationships not
preceded by cohabitation.15

All of this contributes to the fact that cohabiting relationships and
marriages preceded by cohabitation break-up at increased rates. It explains
why "those who cohabit before marriage have substantially higher divorce
rates than those who do not; the recorded differentials range from 50% to
100%.16 "In addition, research done jointly at Yale and Columbia Universities
found that "the dissolution rate for women who cohabit premaritally with
their future spouse are, on average, nearly 80 percent higher than the rates
of those who do not." The authors explain this finding is internationally

These facts have led scholars to conclude the "expectation of a positive
relationship between cohabitation and marital stability...has been shattered
in recent years by studies conducted in several Western countries including
Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, and the United States."18

III. What Marriage Does for Children
There is new group of people in the public debate telling us that children
should be raised in a home with a married mother and father. These are not
religious moralists but rather, social scientists, and their collective work
is reaching some definitive and authoritative conclusions. These researchers,
have found that the breakdown of the traditional two-parent family breakdown
is the engine driving a number of society,s most pressing problems. These
problems include a marked decrease in physical and mental health, lagging
educational attainment, and exploding rates of poverty, crime and

Physical and Mental Health
Dr. Deborah A. Dawson of the National Center for Health Statistics, found
that children living with both biological parents did better in a number of
well-being measures than their counterparts in any other family
configuration. Those children living with mom and dad received professional
help for behavior and psychological problems at half the rate of children not
living with both biological parents.19 Other studies show the general health
problems of children from broken homes is increased by 20 to 30 percent, even
when adjusting for demographic variables.20

Dr. Judith Wallerstein, a leading authority on the long-term effects of
divorce, found that almost half the children in her study, were "worried,
underachieving, self-deprecating and sometimes angry young men and women" ten
years after their parent,s divorce.21 She has also found that serious
emotional and relational problems follow children of divorce into adulthood.
Dr. Nicholas Zill, writing in the Journal of Family Psychology, agrees. He
found that children of divorce showed "high levels of emotional distress, or
problem behavior, [and were more likely] to have received psychological

Educational Attainment
A major study, conducted in the 1960s to find out what factors kept children
from doing well in school, found that the number one factor was lack of
family health. The family factor was a greater influence than school
facilities, curriculum or staff.23

Researchers from Johns Hopkins and Princeton Universities found that growing
up in a single-parent family had a negative effect on grade-point average,
school attendance, and general indicators of educational attainment.24 Other
studies show that children from low-income intact families outperform
students from high-income single parent homes!25 Children living in single
parent homes are nearly twice as likely to drop out of school as those living
with both parents.26 What,s more, researchers from the University of
Illinois summarize that, "In general, the longer the time spent in a
single-parent family, the greater the reduction in educational attainment."27

"The vast majority of children who are raised entirely in a two-parent home
will never be poor during childhood" reports David Ellwood of Harvard
University and a leading authority on welfare. He continues, "By contrast,
the vast majority of children who spend time in a single-parent home will
experience poverty"28

The fact is that almost 75 percent of American children living in
single-parent families will experience poverty before they are 11 years old
compared to 20 percent of children in two-parent families.29 Fatherless
children are five times more likely to live in poverty at anytime than
children living with both parents.30

Pennsylvania State sociologists conclude that "poverty during childhood
affects educational attainment and adult socioeconomic achievement. This
means that family poverty is likely to be reproduced from generation to

Married mothers and fathers, not policemen and jails, are the best deterrents
to crime. An analysis of 50 separate studies of juvenile crime published in
the journal Social Problems, revealed that "the prevalence of delinquency in
broken homes is 10-15 percent higher than in intact homes." In addition,
there "are no appreciable differences in the impact of broken home between
girls and boys or between black youths and white youths."32

Comparing two groups of young black males, another study found that one group
significantly more likely to be sent to jail. Both groups lived in public
housing, were on welfare and had similar life experiences. The only
difference was the law abiding males had both parents present in the home.33

This data confirms the words of U.S. Attorney General William Barr: "If you
look at the one factor that most closely correlates with crime, it,s not
poverty, it,s not employment, it,s not education. It,s the absence of the
father in the family."34

Drs. Sara McLanahan and Larry Bumpass, two of the nation,s leading
authorities on the social impact of single mothering, found that young white
women raised in single-parent families are 164 percent more likely to bear
children out of wedlock themselves and 111 percent more likely to have
children as teen-agers than those raised in two-parent families. Moreover, if
these women do marry, their marriages are 92 percent more likely to end in

These findings are especially troubling given the increased challenges
children face when raised in a single-parent family. As the research shows,
illegitimacy spawns illegitimacy at an alarming rate, thus guaranteeing the
perpetuation of these social problems in future generations.

When Death Creates a Single-Parent Family
Dr. James Egan, a child psychiatrist at Children,s Hospital in Washington
D.C. provocatively asserts, "A dead father is a more effective father than a
missing father."36 This is the same conclusion reached by Dr. Kathleen
Kiernan who has studied the long-term effects of divorce on children.

Dr. Kiernan explains that "it is clear that losing a parent through death has
a less adverse effect on children...than experiencing the breakdown of their
parent,s marriage. Children who lose a parent through death are not
significantly more likely to [experience serious negative consequences] than
their contemporaries who live with both natural parents."37

This difference is because the deceased parent still maintains a moral and
authoritative presence in the home. They are talked about in a positive
manner, their pictures remain on the wall, and negative behavior by a child
can be quickly corrected with "Would your father approve of that?" If the
father has abandoned the family or was never identified, the answer to that
question is "who cares?" or, even worse, "who?"

This finding is significant when you consider that for the past few decades,
families disrupted by the death of a spouse have been declining nationally
and homes marked by divorce, cohabitation and illegitimacy have been
significantly increasing. This means that the pathologies affecting adults
and children due to family change are something we are doing to ourselves,
rather than something that happens to us beyond our control! That is bad
news, but the good news is this fact gives us the opportunity to change...but
only if we find the courage and will to do so.

Are All Single-Parent Families Bad?
It is important to stress that many families break-up due to a physically or
mentally abusive spouse. These families need our compassion and help. Many of
theses parents are doing admirable jobs against great odds and are raising
obedient, intelligent children who will grow to make valuable contributions
to society. Children will likely do better living in a single parent family
where they are safe from physical or mental abuse. The data presented here
should not be seen as an attack upon these families. Moreover, it is an
attack upon family relativism; the popular idea that it doesn,t matter how
people arrange their domestic lives.

The massive body of research reveals that it does matter how arrange their
domestic lives. It shows that marriage is the key and it matters greatly in
the lives of adults, children and society. Given this rich value, it is
important to preserve and strengthen this most valuable institution of
marriage in South Carolina.

A fuller treatment of what marriage does for adults, children and society is
found in Glenn T. Stanton, Why Marriage Matters: Reasons to Believe in
Marriage in Postmodern Society (Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 1997),
available through bookstores or the Palmetto Family Council.


1 Robert H. Coombs, "Marital Status and Personal Well-Being: A Literature
Review," Family Relations, 1991, 40:97-102.
2 Coombs, 1991, p. 97.
3 Coombs, 1991, pp. 97-98.
4 Coombs, 1991, p. 98.
5 Linda Waite, "Does Marriage Matter?" Demography 32 (1995): 483-507.
6 Maradee A. Davis, John M. Neuhaus, Deborah J. Moritz and Mark R. Segal,
"Living Arrangements and Survival among Middle-Aged and Older Adults in the
NHANES I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study," American Journal of Public Health,
1992, 82:401-406.
7 Coombs, 1991, p.99.
8 David R. Williams, David T. Takeuchi and Russell K. Adair, "Marital Status
and Psychiatric Disorders Among Blacks and Whites," Journal of Health and
Social Behavior, 1992, 33:140-157.
9 Coombs, 1991, p. 100.
10 Randy M. Page and Galen E. Cole, "Demographic Predictors of Self-Reported
Loneliness in Adults," Psychological Reports, 1991, 68:939-945.
11 Page and Cole, 1991, p. 943.
12 Jan E. Stets, "The Link Between Past and Present Intimate Relationships,"
Journal of Family Issues, 1993, 14:236-260.
13 Kersti Yllo and Murray Straus, "Interpersonal Violence Among Married and
Cohabiting Couples," Family Relations, 1981, 30:339-347.
14 Jan E. Stets, "Cohabiting and Marital Aggression: The Role of Social
Isolation," Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1991, 53:669-680.
15 Michael D. Newcomb and P.M. Bentler, "Assessment of Personality and
Demographic Aspects of Cohabitation and Marital Success," Journal of
Personality Assessment, 1980, 44:11-24.
16 William G. Axinn and Arland Thornton, "The Relationship Between
Cohabitation and Divorce: Selectivity or Casual Influence?," Demography,
1992, 29:357-374.
17 Neil G. Bennett, Ann Blanc Klimas and David E. Bloom, "Commitment and the
Modern Union: Assessing the Link Between Premarital Cohabitation and
Subsequent Marital Stability," American Sociological Review, 1988, 53:127-138.
18 Axinn and Thornton, 1992, p. 374.
19 Deborah A. Dawson, "Family Structure and Children,s Health and
Well-being: Data from the National Health Interview Survey on Child Health,"
Journal of Marriage and the Family, 1991, 53:573-584.
20 L. Remez, "Children Who Don,t Live with Both Parents Face Behavioral
Problems," Family Planning Perspectives, January/February 1992.
21 Judith S. Wallerstein and Sandra Blakeslee,. Second Chances: Men, Women,
and Children a Decade After Divorce (New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1990) pp.
22 Nicholas Zill, Donna Morrison, and Mary Jo Coiro, "Long-Term Effects of
Parental Divorce on Parent-Child Relationships, Adjustment, and Achievement
in Young Adulthood," Journal of Family Psychology, 1993, 7:91-103
23 James S. Coleman, et al., Equality of Educational Opportunity, U.S.
Department of Health, Education and Welfare, Washington D.C., 1966.
24 Nan Marie Astone and Sarah S. McLanahan, "Family Structure, Parental
Practices and High School Completion," American Sociological Review, 1991,
25 "One-Parent Families and Their Children: The School,s Most Significant
Minority," conducted by The Consortium for the Study of School Needs of
Children from One-Parent Families, cosponsored by the National Association of
Elementary School Principals and the Institute for Development of Educational
Activities, a division of the Charles F. Kettering Foundation (Arlington, VA:
26 Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur, Growing Up with a Single Parent: What
Hurts, What Helps, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1994), p. 41.
27 Shelia Fitzgerald Krein and Andrea H. Beller, "Educational Attainment of
Children from Single Parent Families: Differences by Exposure, Gender, and
Race," Demography, 1988, 25:221-233.
28 David Ellwood, Poor Support (New York: Basic Books, 1988) p. 46.
29 National Commission on Children, Just the Facts: A Summary of Recent
Information on America,s Children and their Families, (Washington D.C., 1993).
30 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Center for Health
Statistics, Survey on Child Health (Washington, D.C., 1993).
31 David Eggebeen and Daniel T. Lichter, "Race, Family Structure, and
Changing Poverty among American Children," American Sociological Review,
1991, 56:801-815.
32 Edward L. Wells and Joseph H. Rankin, "Families and Delinquency: A
Meta-Analysis of the Impact of Broken Homes," Social Problems, 1991, 38:71-89.
33 M. Anne Hill and June O,Neill,. Underclass Behaviors in the United
States: Measurements and Analysis of Determinants (New York: City University
of New York, Baruch College, 1993) p. 90.
34 Wade Horn, Father Facts, The National Fatherhood Initiative, 1995, p. 23.
35 I. Garfinkel, and S. S. McLanahan,. Single Mothers and Their Children: A
New American Dilemma (Washington D.C.: The Urban Institute Press, 1986) pp.
36 "When Father,s Are Absent," address given at the National Summit on
Fatherhood, sponsored by the National Fatherhood Initiative; Dallas, Texas,
October 27, 1994.
37 Kathleen E. Kiernan, "The Impact of Family Disruption in Childhood on
Transitions Made in Young Adult Life," Populations Studies, 1992, 46:213-234.

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