Benefits of Family for Children and Adults

The intact family appears to offer a myriad of benefits for adults and children. The married home tends to provide a safer and healthier home environment. On average, children in intact families fare better in school, exhibit fewer behavioral problems, and are more likely to form healthy romantic relationships as adults.

  • Children raised in intact families have, on average, higher academic achievement, better emotional health, and fewer behavioral problems. Compared with peers in intact families and those in stepfamilies or single-parent families where either the biological father or mother was present, children who lived in households where no biological parent was present fared less well with regard to 24 out of 30 indicators of emotional well-being and behavior. This was true even when demographic factors were held constant. When compared with their peers from families with two biological parents, students who lived with neither biological parent scored lower with regard to academic performance, educational aspiration, sense of self determination, and self-esteem, and they exhibited more behavioral problems.1
  • Fathers of intact families spend, on average, more time with their children. They also enjoy greater family cohesion than peers with adopted children or stepchildren.2
  • Teens who frequently have dinner with their families are at a lower risk for substance abuse. Compared with teens who had dinner with their families at least five times a week, those who had dinner with their families only two nights per week or less were twice as likely to be involved in substance abuse. They were 2.5 times as likely to smoke cigarettes, more than 1.5 times as likely to drink alcohol, and nearly three times as likely to try marijuana.3
  • Adolescents from intact families are less likely to become sexually active. Among a sample of adolescent virgins, those who reported living with two married parents were roughly 40 percent less likely to engage in sexual activity before the follow-up interview approximately a year later than adolescents who were not living with two married parents.4
  • Children raised in intact families by happily married parents tend to be more religious in adulthood. This “religiosity inheritance” was even greater among children who were raised in families with two happily married biological parents. Religiosity in this study was determined with regard to six measures: daily influence of religious beliefs; frequency of reading the Bible; frequency of viewing/listening to religious broadcasts; frequency of engaging in prayer; frequency of participation in church-related activities (other than services); and frequency of church attendance.5
  • Children raised in intact families are more likely to have stable and healthy romantic relationships as adults. Compared with peers who were raised in a home with married parents, males whose parents never married were significantly less likely to marry and were more likely to cheat and walk out on their romantic partners. Women with divorced parents had significantly higher rates of cohabitation and marriage but also had higher rates of dysfunction, such as walking out on their partner and divorce. Women whose parents never married were also more likely to cohabit with and walk out on their partners than women from homes with married parents.6
  • Intact families are more likely to provide a safe home for children. Compared to peers in intact families, children in other family structures experienced significantly higher rates of exposure to domestic violence. While 9.9 percent of adolescents not living with both biological parents reported witnessing violence in their homes, only 4.4 percent of those living with both biological parents reported the same. In addition, 6.9 percent of adolescents not living with both biological parents reported that they had been the direct victims of domestic violence, compared to 3.5 percent of those living with both biological parents. Finally, 11.5 percent of adolescents who did not live with both parents reported that they had both witnessed and been the victims of violence in their homes—twice the percentage (5.8 percent) of peers living with both biological parents.7
  • Married mothers tend to create a better home environment for their infants. Married mothers also tended to interact more positively with their infants compared to cohabiting or single mothers.8
  • Married mothers are less likely to experience abuse and violence. Even when the very high rates of abuse of separated and divorced mothers were added into the statistic, the rates of abuse among mothers who had ever been married were still lower than the rates of abuse among women who had never married and those who were cohabiting. Among mothers who were currently married or had ever been married, the rate of abuse was 38.5 per 1,000 mothers. Among mothers who have never been married the rate was 81 per 1,000 mothers.9
  • Married fathers tend to have better psychological well-being. Divorced fathers were, on average, more depressed than their married counterparts, whether or not their children resided with them.10

Footnotes

  1. Youngmin Sun, “The Well-Being of Adolescents in Households with No Biological Parents,” Journal of Marriage and Family 65, No. 4 (November 2003): 894-909.
  2. Jennifer E Lansford et al., “Does Family Structure Matter? A Comparison of Adoptive, Two-Parent Biological, Single-Mother, Stepfather, and Stepmother Households,” Journal of Marriage and Family 63 (August 2001): 840-851.
  3. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, “The Importance of Family Dinners II,” (September 2005), http://www.casacolumbia.org/download.aspx?path=/UploadedFiles/cvq5rn5t.pdf.
  4. S. South, D. L. Haynie and S. Bose, “Residential mobility and the onset of adolescent sexual activity,” Journal of Marriage and Family 67 (2005): 499-514.
  5. Scott M. Myers, “An Interactive Model of Religiosity Inheritance: The Importance of Family Context,” American Sociological Review 61, No. 5 (October 1996): 858-866.
  6. Rebecca A. Colman and Cathy Spatz Widon, “Childhood Abuse and Adult Intimate Relationships: A Prospective Study,” Child Abuse & Neglect 28, No. 11 (November 2004): 1133-1151.
  7. Melinda Yexley, Iris Borowsky and Marjorie Ireland, “Correlation Between Different Experiences of Intrafamilial Physical Violence and Violent Adolescent Behavior,” Journal of Interpersonal Violence 17 (2002): 707-720.
  8. Stacy R. Aronson and Aletha C. Huston, “The Mother-Infant Relationship in Single, Cohabiting, and Married Families: A Case for Marriage?” Journal of Family Psychology 18, No. 1 (2004): 5-18.
  9. Robert E. Rector , Patrick F. Fagan, and Kirk A. Johnson, “Marriage: Still the Safest Place for Women and Children,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder No. 1732, (March 9, 2004): 1-4, http://s3.amazonaws.com/thf_media/2004/pdf/bg1732.pdf.
  10. Adam Shapiro and James D. Lambert, “Longitudinal Effects of Divorce on the Quality of the Father-Child Relationship and on Fathers’ Psychological Well-Being,” Journal of Marriage and the Family: 61, (May 1999): 397-408.