Charles Murray:

No matter what the outcome being examined–the quality of the mother-infant relationship, externalizing behavior in childhood (aggression, delinquency, and hyperactivity), delinquency in adolescence, criminality as adults, illness and injury in childhood, early mortality, sexual decision making in adolescence, school problems and dropping out, emotional health, or any other measure of how well or poorly children do in life–the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.

Divorced parents produce the next-best outcomes. Whether the parents remarry or remain single while the children are growing up makes little difference. Never-married women produce the worst outcomes. All of these statements apply after controlling for the family’s socioeconomic status. I know of no other set of important findings that are as broadly accepted by social scientists who follow the technical literature, liberal as well as conservative, and yet are so resolutely ignored by network news programs, editorial writers for the major newspapers, and politicians of both major political parties. (Coming Apart, 158)

It’s worth noting that Murray provides ten footnotes for these claims, referencing 17 different books or articles. Any efforts to address problems of crime, truancy, misbehavior, or most other social ills in this country, which do not address the crisis of marriage, are ignoring an inconvenient truth of elephantine proportions.

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18 thoughts on “Children and Marriage”

  1. Terry says:

    Does he address adoptive families? Do our children turn out better or worse?

  2. Michael B. says:

    “the family structure that produces the best outcomes for children, on average, are two biological parents who remain married.”

    Sounds like this has huge implications for parents who adopt children or parents who get divorced.

  3. David Shane says:

    Kind of what I was thinking when Santorum was being mocked for saying we need to “rebuild the family”. Why is that such a crazy thing to say? The destruction of the family unit over the last half century has been terrible, especially for the poor, and we probably don’t talk about it nearly enough.

  4. Kevin DeYoung says:

    He doesn’t really talk about adoption, but he stresses that “the problem is never-married mothers” (159). Even cohabiting non-married couples, on average, produce children like those from “traditional” non-married mothers. Now, as Christians we want to be quick to help never-married mothers and quick to extend the gospel to every kind of person in our midst. We also want to recognize that these are averages, not iron clad laws. But after all these careful considerations we cannot deny the facts of the matter: children do best with a mom and dad that stay together.

  5. Melody says:

    Interesting stuff. I hope someone will come along and address the adoption question too. I hope to adopt children in the future and so do many of my friends. I’ve seen adoptions go really well and really badly, but it would be nice to see studies on it.

    The bit about never married mothers is good to know too. I’m single, a good chunk of my friends are single and as we get older we’ve often considered adopting children as single women. In light of this information I wonder if that might not be rather more harmful to the children than helpful. Or is one parent better than none?

  6. Kelly M. says:

    Wow, I feel like I’ve been hit over the head with a sledge hammer! I’m a Christian, 34-year-old, single woman and I’ve been thinking/praying over going into foster care, possibly adopting if the situation ever came up with a foster child in my care. Ideally, I’d love to be married and help foster kids, but that hasn’t happened. I’m not sure what to think now! I wouldn’t want to make a situation worse for a child, but up until now I thought I would be doing a good thing…

  7. Andrew says:

    As a Father of an adopted child I would say that the questions raised concerning adopted children would be difficult for this study to analyze. There are just too many variables. At what age were they adopted. Was there abuse, abandonment, or something else in the child’s background. Was alcohol or drugs a factor during pregnancy…

    Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Don’t look at stats as some sort of fatalistic forcast of your destiny. Grace trumps nature. That’s what we believe as Christians. Sure we understand that God ordinarily works through stable Christian families but he also works to redeem utter brokenness to the praise of his glorious grace. So adopt, love, pray, discipline, and nurture the children God gives you in the fear of the Lord and faith in his Son in dependence on him every step of the way. And have a hopeful expectation of good things…even to a thousand generations.

  8. Terry says:

    Wow, Andrew, That was beautiful, “even to a thousand generations.” That is Our God! To Him be the glory forever and ever!

  9. John Thomson says:

    I am surprised a step-parent makes little difference. I understood step-parents created a lot of tensions.

  10. Dadphil says:

    My wife and I have adopted 4 children. 3 of them at about 6-8 months, and one as a “snowflake”. We love each other deeply, and from where we view life, seem to be a fairly regular family. Adoption is a part of our life, but it isn’t all of our life. The adoption that really matters to us is that which is by the grace of our Saviour – brothers and sisters in Him.
    And Andrew…thanks! Great comments! “Grace trumps nature”. AMEN.

  11. Tessy says:

    “Grace trumps nature”…that’s beautiful. My 2 cents worth is simply that God calls us to care for the widows and orphans…. And for good reason. The widows are without a spiritual leader for their household, and orphans are without a spiritual leader (father) and a spiritual nurturer (mother). I believe adoption is a calling from God, and He blesses those who answer His call. Praise the Lord, for His grace is sufficient!

  12. Terry says:

    Thank you for those encouraging words, Andrew. I’m a father of an adopted child, too.

  13. David Axberg says:

    “Grace trumps nature” This is one of those truths that is true from begining to end. Peter walks on water, Philip finds the ethiopian, walking through the Red Sea and many more (for the most part the whole of scripture ;-).) So it only makes sense that adoption is a good and right thing even mandated by scripture, just look at our salvation ;-). God bless Now all those who are adopted and adopt for the love of the Father.

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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