Opinion

April 29, 2014 (Heritage) – “Is it time to embrace the end of marriage and embrace some new ideas about romance and family? …Does culture have it right or is there something better?” asks Tim Sisarich as he narrates a new movie, “Irreplaceable,” a full-length film about the desire for significance and the need for family opening in theaters May 6.

Sisarich’s question summarizes what some commentators have started to wonder about the trajectory of marriage in modern culture. In the 1960s, nearly nine out of 10 children lived with two parents. Fast-forward 50 years: today, more than one-fourth of all children live in single-parent households—most with their mothers. In the 1960s, roughly 5 percent of children were born to single women. Today, that number is over 40 percent.

Research shows that children tend to do best when raised by their married father and mother. Yet, fewer children are living in intact, married families where their dad is present—leaving many to experience the social, emotional, and economic hardships of growing up in a single-parent household.

As Dr. Linda Malone-Colon, Chair of psychology at Hampton University, explains in Irreplaceable:

We know that fathers are critical to child development and there’s a lot of pain associated with fathers not being involved in their children’s lives.  And so, women who feel that they’ve been rejected by their fathers, have a fear of rejection, abandonment, they have a fear of commitment, a feeling of being unworthy, and of being unlovable. And for boys, we see high rates of aggression, violence, and expressions of anger.  And so we know that boys need these models of manhood, and they’re losing out on that by not having their fathers involved in their lives.

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Households without fathers face greater prospects of economic hardships. In fact, single-mother households comprise more than half of all families living in poverty. Having a married mom and dad decreases the likelihood of childhood poverty by 82 percent. New research shows that children who live in single-parent homes—or even communities where the majority of homes are headed by single parents—are less likely to experience economic mobility.

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Single parents and their children are also at greater risk of government dependence. In 2011, roughly three-quarters of the more than $450 billion in federal welfare funding for low-income families with children went to single-parent households.

However, fathers’ role in the lives of their children goes beyond economic benefits. Having an involved father influences childhood educational achievement. For instance, adolescents who spend leisure time with their fathers, eat meals as a family, and receive help with homework tend to earn better grades in school.

Teenagers from intact families are more likely to be emotionally healthy and have higher self-esteem. Boys who have grown up with their married mom and dad are less likely to have behavioral problems, such as heightened aggression or substance abuse. Girls with absent fathers have seven to eight times higher teenage pregnancy rates. But teenagers who report close relationship with their fathers are more likely to avoid teen pregnancy and anticipate having a stable marriage in the future.

The advantages of having both a mother and father in the home are clear— both economically and socially. We should work to restore a culture of marriage, promoting the institution’s economic and social benefits to adolescents and young adults, and remove marriage penalties in welfare policy.

Reprinted with permission from Heritage

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