given the choice

I’ve just finished reading Families Without Fatherhood by Norman Dennis and George Erdos (third edition 2000). Their interest is the family, and they review a large and comprehensive body of evidence which suggests that if children are born to married parents who are committed to each other and to bringing up their children, on average, these children do better in life than children who aren’t part of that situation. That’s “doing better” as in: lower mortality rates, less likelihood of child abuse or neglect, better health, higher educational achievement, you name it.

Based on this evidence, in the afterword, Peter Saunders makes the comment that any child, given the choice, would opt to be born to married parents, rather than be part of any other kind of living arrangement (single parents, step families, cohabitation, two mums or two dads, etc).

The book also queries why there is such clear public opinion that it doesn’t matter what kind of living arrangements you’re in – ie, why it is that people in general believe that there are no adverse consequences of choosing to raise children within or outwith the context of marriage (either for the adults or for the children), even when the evidence points so overwhelmingly in the opposite direction. The book’s conclusion is that this is not a case of people turning a blind eye to unwelcome information, as if they were just ignoring what they don’t want to hear. Rather, this information is not actually being made available – the general public is not aware that the evidence exists, and are therefore not in a position to live out their lifestyles on the basis of an informed choice.

Families Without Fatherhood is actually the first thing I’ve come across which argues in favour of traditional marriage on the basis of evidence. Maybe it’s my lack of reading widely, but I’m more inclined to agree that the evidence is simply not available to the average wo/man on the street – if you’d asked my opinion I’d have told you traditional marriage was best, but I’d have made that choice on ideological grounds, because I’d have believed that the data on the benefits of marriage were still ambivalent (ie we still don’t know what effect the dismantling of the institution of marriage is having – the too soon to say argument). But since this blog has such a vast readership, I’ll share this evidence with you here – do my bit to publicise the existence of clear and consistent findings that, on average, children raised in the context of the traditional lifelong committed two-parent family are better off than those raised in other contexts.

2 thoughts on “given the choice

  1. I’m guessing here that the “evidence” you cite fails to account for dependent variables. In this particular case, that is obviously social class. Rich people are more likely to form nuclear families than poor people. Children of rich people are more likely to turn out to be rich themselves than children of poor people. Ergo, children raised in nuclear families are more likely to be rich than children who weren’t. The first rule of the scientist is: Don’t mistake correlation for causality! In other words, just because you really really want God to punish people who don’t behave like you want them to, doesn’t mean that He will.


  2. The scientists in question are mainstream, and secular, academics at (or associated with) Newcastle University. I didn’t notice them confusing correlation and causation when I read the book, and as I said in the post, their argument was new and surprising to me too. But if you’re seriously interested you can examine the evidence for yourself (note absence of scare quotes on evidence) as the book is published as a pdf here.

    You are also no doubt aware that I didn’t actually mention God or punishment in the post, and nor do I think I expressed a view as to how I’d like people to behave. In other words, I think you need more evidence before you decide what I would “really really want” to happen.


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