The importance of marriage to society is an irrevocable truth: for a society to even survive, there must be children. For children to be born, there must be fathers and mothers. For fatherhood and motherhood to exist, there must be commitment and sacrifice that will designate the male and female as a new union that will give society the needed foundation to flourish. That bond is marriage.
Dr. Scott Stanley examines a recent study showing that children with married parents are better off than children with unmarried parents.
Their findings show that the association between marriage and positive child outcomes may be substantially accounted for by greater income and more engaged parenting among marrieds. Based on this, they argue that intervention efforts should focus on parenting and not on marriage, per se.
But Scott Hanley points out that marriage is more than a “mere commitment device” or a superfluous relationship status:
Signals of commitment are important across a wide swath of societal life because people will often make better decisions with clearer information about the level of motivation in others,iii and signals about commitment are, arguably, of great importance in the development and maintenance of romantic and family relationships. Reeves seems to be arguing that the signal value of marriage is not as consequential as behaviors such as parenting, but what that view fails to account for is how marriage has most typically been a potent signal of commitment with a distinct placement regarding the sequence and timing of childbearing. At the root of it, what is signaled by marriage is a commitment comprised of “us with a future.”v Sure, reality has very often been messier than the tidy ordering of love, marriage, and a baby carriage; and many marriages do not go the distance. But marriage is likely, in some large respect, explanatory regarding child outcomes because marriage most often is a strong and credible signal of commitment prior to childbirth.
[. . .]
While not always, and perhaps less so now than before, marriage serves as a strong signal that two people are tacitly committed to raising a family together. Further, and for more complex reasons than I want to develop here, signals are the most informative when they are fully under the control of those sending them—by which I mean, when the behavior has fewer prior constraints so that it reflects something true about the individual. That means that signals about commitment are more informative before a child arrives than after because having a child increases life constraints. When marriage precedes two people having a child, the question of intention about a shared long-term time horizon was settled before things got messy with baby drool and poop. For couples with this foundation already in place, even unplanned and mistimed children are still landing in a relatively rich context regarding bi-parental commitment. One can (and should) believe that various socio-economic disadvantages govern a lot in this big lottery of life, but we should not lose sight of how sequence plays a consequential and causal role in child outcomes.
Families are the foundation of society, and the devaluing of marriage has consequences that reach every male, female, and child, as well as future generations. Without marriage, “family” becomes a simple collection of cohabitants, and couples are no longer the building blocks that create and sustain those families, but simply a joint agreement.
Marriage is, indeed, fading in front of our eyes, and with it goes a lot of signal clarity about commitment in the context of sequence. Maybe those elements can be constructed behaviorally on a broad scale, but we should recognize the difficulty we face in trying to make up for the loss of something with real explanatory power.
For a strong future, children should be provided with the best environment possible: a family, with committed, married mother and father.
Read more at family-studies.org.