Family Structure Does Matter

Archbishop George Pell’s defence of marriage was met by the usual shouts of “bigotry” and “intolerance”. Hurling abuse is always easier than making a rational argument.

A few detractors of the Archbishop did give the semblance of argument. For example, several letter writers simply said that there is no evidence that marriage and a mother and a father are best for raising children. Gay activists Rodney Croome and Somali Cerise went so far as to claim there “isn’t any”. They continued, “In contrast, 25 years of credible research shows that what determines a child’s health and wellbeing is not family structure but the love and care within a family.”

Given that these two are well-read and intelligent adults, one can see pure advocacy going on here. They are 100 per cent wrong on this issue. Exactly the opposite conclusion can be drawn from 30 years of social science research. The evidence is as overwhelming as it is compelling: children do best, by every indicator, when raised in a biological heterosexual two-parent home cemented by marriage than in any other arrangement. Children are at greater risk of drug abuse, suicide, mental illness, an early death, criminal involvement, poor educational performance, lack of job opportunities, and so on, when not raised by a biological mother and father.

Family structure does matter. This is so clearly established by the social sciences that those who argue otherwise are simply pushing prejudice over evidence. Let me give just a tiny sampling of the evidence, all of which is fully documented and is publicly available.

Research from the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University has demonstrated this strong link between poverty and single-parent families. Recent research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics has found that half of single parents are on welfare.

A recent study by the Western Australian Child Health Survey found that 30 per cent of children from sole-parent families were low academic performers, compared with 17 per cent from couple families. Australian research has also found that children from two-parent families have a better chance of getting a job than those from sole-parent families.

A study of Australian primary school children from three family types (married heterosexual couples, cohabiting heterosexual couples and homosexual couples) found that in every area of educational endeavour (language; mathematics; social studies; sport; class work, sociability and popularity; and attitudes to learning), children from married heterosexual couples performed better than the other two groups.

A longitudinal study of 512 Australian children found that there are more offenders coming from families of cohabiting than married couples, and there are proportionally more offenders who become recidivists coming from families of cohabiting than married couples. The study concludes, “The relationship between cohabitation and delinquency is beyond contention: children of cohabiting couples are more likely to be found among offenders than children of married couples”.

A Melbourne youth worker who has spent decades helping street kids and juvenile offenders has said  that “almost 100 per cent” of these kids are from “single parent families or blended families”.

Recent Australian research has found that the typical child murderer is a young man in a de facto relationship with the victim’s mother. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that “a relatively high proportion of substantiations [of child abuse] involved children living in female-headed one-parent families and in two-parent step or blended families.”

Former Human Rights Commissioner Brian Burdekin stated that there was an alarming 500 to 600 per cent increase in sexual abuse of girls in families where the adult male was not the natural father.

This Australian data is backed up by extensive overseas data, all of which comes to the same conclusion. If we are concerned about the wellbeing of children, they should grow up with their mother and father, full stop.

Of course same-sex couples cannot provide a child with what they need most: a mother and a father. While studies on children raised in same-sex households are only now forthcoming, they reveal reason for caution.

For example, a major American study arrived at these conclusions: “children of homosexuals will 1) be more frequently subjected to parental instability (of residence and sexual partners) and 2) have poorer peer and adult relationships. Also, as is held to be true of their parents, homosexuals’ children will be more apt to 3) become homosexual, 4) be unstable (have emotional problems and difficulty forming lasting bonds) with reduced interest in natality, and 5) be sexually precocious and promiscuous”.

What we know by intuition is cemented by the social science research. Children need mum and dad, not a group of adults, not alternative lifestyle families. Family expert William Galston of the University of Maryland summarises:

“The weight of evidence indicates that the traditional family based upon a married father and mother is still the best environment for raising children, and it forms the soundest basis for the wider society. For many mothers, fathers and children, the ‘fatherless family’ has meant poverty, emotional heartache, ill health, lost opportunities, and a lack of stability. The social fabric – once considered flexible enough to incorporate all types of lifestyles – has been stretched and strained. Although a good society should tolerate people’s rights to live as they wish, it must also hold adults responsible for the consequences of their actions. To do this, society must not shrink from evaluation the results of these actions. As J.S. Mill argued, a good society must share the lessons learnt from its experience and hold up ideals to which all can aspire.”

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4 Replies to “Family Structure Does Matter”

  1. Your reasoning is flawed. You argue that because many of the children in alternative families grow up with problems, those problems must be attributable to family structure. This is doubtful. Many of these problems are the result of conflict, abuse or poverty, which happen to strike alternative families more often, for various reasons. These problems are not inherent in the family structure. For example, Federal law discriminates against gay parents in Medicare law, meaning those families have to pay more to qualify for benefits. This will obviously harm the children the most.

    Other families have problems because our society makes single-parenting very difficult. Many mothers are forced back to work in menial jobs for little pay, meaning they can’t spend much time with their children to give them the attention they need. The problem is not single-parenting per se, but the wider factors in their lives. (On the other hand, some single-parents manage very well).

    Problems in children’s development can usually be traced back to abuse, poverty, neglect or parental conflict. It is too simplistic to lay all the blame for these problems solely at the feet of alternative families.

    John Kloprogge, North Croydon

  2. Hi John,
    How do you explain the difference in performance of kids from a married couple as opposed to a cohabiting couple. They have the same income capability and the same government financial benefits. Surely you recognise that there is a trend here and that the traditional family structure appears to have a greater benefit than any other arrangement?

    To blame children’s problems on socio-economic factors is also too simplistic. Not every single parent is poor and not every married couple is rich; not every poor kid is a brat and not every rich kid is a saint. This study indicates that if children come from the same socio-economic background and the same education background, the kids with married parents are more likely to succeed. You can’t argue the results solely because they don’t fit your worldview.

    Sharny Annison, Leongatha

  3. Thanks for the article. You mentioned “A study of primary school children from three family types…” . Could you give me the name of the study and who conducted it and perhaps another two studies re gay marriage and children. I do agree with your views don’t get me wrong but if i am debating issues such as gay marriage and the harm it does to children, the first thing the proponents will probably say is “show me the evidence”. It does the cause little good if we can’t back up our statements with names of recognised studies. Thanks for all you are doing.
    Peter Byl

  4. Thanks Peter

    The particular study you ask about is this:
    Sarantakos, Sotirios, “Children in Three Contexts,” Children Australia, vol. 21, no. 3, 1996, pp. 23-31.

    But with over 700 footnotes in my book, I have heaps of documentation there. You really need to get the book if you are looking for the references and documentation to help you make your case. See here for example:

    http://orders.koorong.com.au/search/product/strained-relations-bill-muehlenberg/9780646560953.jhtml

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

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