By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, FEB. 21, 2010 (Zenit.org).- In the lead-up to St. Valentine’s day, both the bishops of the United States and those of England and Wales organized a week of activities to draw attention to the importance of marriage and family life.
This period also saw the publication of two briefings on marriage by an English think tank, the Relationships Foundation. On Feb. 9 they published “Counting the Cost of Family Failure,” and the following day “Why Does Marriage Matter?”
In the first briefing the foundation put at 41.7 billion pounds ($64.49 billion) the annual cost of failed relationships. This works out at 1,350 pounds ($2,088) for each U.K. taxpayer. Public policymakers need to take into account this high economic burden and take appropriate steps to ensure more stable relationships, the briefing urged.
“It is an unpopular truth that choices have consequences and costs, and that these are not always borne by the choice-maker,” the briefing commented.
The foundation also pointed out that functioning families are key to social life and in transmitting skills. The briefing put at 73 billion pounds ($112 billion) a year the amount contributed by families through their support of family members and the social care they provide.
The briefing observed that family breakdown imposes costs that are not merely financial. It referred to studies showing a greater incidence of health problems among divorced adults and their children.
In addition, the emotional traumas, loneliness and fractured relationships have an impact that is far from negligible. Children’s education also suffers as a divorced parent has less time to assist with homework and to encourage learning.
“Delegates at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers in 2008 said chaotic home lives and poverty made children unable to learn,” the briefing observed.
The foundation admitted that there is no easy or short-term solution to the problem of instability in family life, but the burden of family disintegration is unsustainable for society, it concluded.
The second briefing by the Relationships Foundation looked at the other side of the coin and examined the benefits of marriage. In “Why Does Marriage Matter?” they explained that, while almost any relationship has benefits, the advantages are far greater for married couples.
The briefing noted that some argue these matters should be a purely private decision between two people and so should not be of concern to public authorities. “But marriage affects not just two consenting adults, but also any children involved, the wider extended families and society as a whole,” the briefing affirmed.
“In supporting marriage, policy is firstly recognizing that it is beneficial to see relationships as public institutions, not just private choices,” the foundation continued.
Therefore, it should be rejected as just a myth that private living arrangements should enjoy the same legal protections and social support as marriage, the briefing argued.
The briefing drew together research from a number of studies to back up the claim that marriage is beneficial for families and society in general. Among the benefits for the couple are the following:
— Married men earn between 10%-40% more than do single men with similar educationand job histories;
— Married couples build more wealth on average than do otherwise similar singles or cohabiting couples, even those with similar incomes;
— Marriage is associated with a significant and substantively meaningful reduction on depression;
— Marital status affects the progress of Alzheimer’s in later life;
— Married people are more likely to survive cancer;
— Married people have a lower risk of suicide than non-married individuals, a protective effect that has persisted over the past 25 years;
— Marriage makes people healthier and happier, and married people live longer.
Marriage also benefits children:
— Babies born to married parents have lower rates of infant mortality. On average, the risk of infant mortality is increased by 25%-30% if the mother is cohabiting, and by 45%-68% if themother is single;
— Married fathers spend more time with their children, they provide more material resources, they work more closely with their children’s mother, and they are more committed, emotionally and morally to contributing to their children’s future;
— 70% of U.K. children born to married parents in 1997 can expect to spend their entire childhood with both natural parents, compared to 35% of children born to cohabiting parents;
— Controlling for factors such as race, mother’s education, neighborhood quality, and cognitive ability, boys raised in lone-parent homes are still twice as likely to have been imprisoned by the time they reach their early 30s;
— Children living with lone mothers, stepfathers, or mother’s boyfriends are more likely to become victims of child abuse, and children living in lone-mother homes have increased rates of death from intentional injuries;
— Children whose parents marry and stay married are more likely to have stable marriagesthemselves and to wait until marriage to become parents.
Cohabitation, often presented as an acceptable alternative to marriage today, simply does not bring the same benefits as marriage, the briefing concluded.
Cohabiting couples, on average, report lower levels of relationship satisfaction, more conflict, more violence and lower levels of commitment, the briefing explained. In general the lack of advantages in cohabitation versus marriage stems from the fact that people who choose to live together are often less committed to a lifelong relationship.
The briefing commented that some argue that the relationship between strong families and the benefits flowing from them is due to a selection effect, namely that only marriageable people commit to it and that all the benefits are simply because of the type of people who choose it.
This is not a valid argument the briefing responded. Firstly, it ignores the positive result of making a clear decision and a commitment, which comes about when people marry.
Secondly, the shift to childbirth outside marriage is a result of a dramatic change in the past few decades, which is social in nature and not the result of some genetic change that has made some people less marriageable.
These two reports are just the latest in a constant stream of documentation that proves how important marriage is for society. Last October, another U.K. group that specializes in relationships, One Plus One, published a report titled: “When Couples Part: Understanding the Consequences for Adults and Children.”
After an overview of the data provided by many research studies the report concluded that although the evidence on the impact of marriage breakdown is highly complex, “the overriding conclusion is the association it has with adult and child disadvantage.”
This association remains strong despite the fact that divorce and separation is widespread in today’s society with research showing that the negative impacts have not diminished through time, the report added.
“Hence the urgent need to increase the policy recognition of promoting family functioning and stability,” it concluded.
Benedict XVI recently spoke out about the benefits of marriage when on Feb. 8 he addressed the participants in a plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Family. Referring to the need to protect children the Pope commented: “Indeed, it is precisely the family founded on the marriage between a man and a woman that can give children the grea
“They want to be loved by a mother and a father who love each other, and they need to live and grow together with both their parents, because the maternal and paternal figures are complementary in the raising of children and the development of their personality and identity,” he added.
“It is therefore important that everything possible be done to enable them to grow up in a united and stable family,” the Pope recommended.
Whether from a sociological or a religious perspective encouraging and protecting marriage makes good sense.