Marriage isn't 'just a piece of paper'

Elizabeth Marquardt, No Wedding No Womb, 9/23/2011

Marriage is about much more than a church service, a big party, and a fancy dress. It’s the best social institution we humans have come up with so far to address the needs that men and women have to bond with one another and their children’s needs to have their mothers and fathers in their lives

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Subjects: Marriage, What is marriage?

More by: Elizabeth Marquardt

In a recent report released by the Center for Marriage and Families at the Institute for American Values and the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, a team of family scholars from some of our nation’s leading universities found, to the surprise of many, that cohabitation–not divorce–is now driving rising rates of family instability in America.

For years divorce has been a primary concern for those who watch and worry about family trends. Children whose parents divorce are more likely to suffer on a host of social and emotional indicators. The good news is that the nation’s divorce rate has stabilized somewhat. The bad news is that this trend is due in part to persons marrying later or not at all, and often living together instead.

As long as mom and dad are living together with their baby, why does it matter if they have this piece of paper that says they’re married? It turns out that marriage is more than just a piece of paper. It’s an institution with a set of laws and norms that help guide and support a couple over time. By contrast, just living together is not as stable as marriage. The report finds that the parental breakup rate is 170% higher for children born to cohabiting couples compared to those whose parents married. Moreover, federal data shows that children are at least three times more likely to be physically, sexually, or emotionally abused in cohabiting households, compared to children in intact, biological married parent homes. They are also more likely to experience delinquency, drug use, and school failure.

Finally, studies also suggest that cohabitation in a range of cultural and national contexts is less stable than marriage. In other words, the problems with cohabitation are not, to paraphrase from the title of a book now heating up public discussion in America, just “a white thing.” [link to the new book] African American and Latino children born into cohabiting unions are also more likely to see their parents break up than their peers who were born to married parents.

Marriage is about much more than a church service, a big party, and a fancy dress. It’s the best social institution we humans have come up with so far to address the needs that men and women have to bond with one another and their children’s needs to have their mothers and fathers in their lives. Given the deep emotional and social needs that marriage serves, it’s really no surprise that African American children suffer just as much as others when their parents cannot make their love last. Marriage matters. For everybody.

This article originally appeared here.

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