The divorce paradox

On May 8, 2012, in Divorce, Maggie Gallagher, by Betsy

by Maggie Gallagher

This article was first published at on August 18, 2011.

The kids are not doing just fine.

The Institute for American Values’ new updated report, “Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions From the Social Sciences,” is signed by an impressive list of family scholars ranging from professor John Gottman to professor Brad Wilcox. It concludes:

“The intact, biological, married family remains the gold standard for family life in the United States, insofar as children are most likely to thrive—economically, socially and psychologically —in this family form.”

The good news is that divorce involving children is down. The bad news is that children today are less likely to live with both parents. Thirty years ago, 66 percent of 16-years-olds lived with their mom and dad. By 2004, only 55 percent did so.

Divorce is down; family instability is up. How can that be?

More and more young men and women are choosing to have children in cohabiting rather than marital unions.

And cohabitation turns out to be a poor substitute for marriage. Sixty-five percent of children born to a cohabiting mother will experience a family breakup, compared to 24 percent of children born to a married mother.

Child abuse and family structure
Consider the data on child abuse and family structure.
Two things leap out: First, children living with married biological parents are less likely to experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse—and the gap is quite large. For example, a child is 10 times more likely to experience physical abuse if he lives with a mother and her cohabiting lover than if he lives with his married mom and dad.

Living with a man you’re not married to is dangerous for your child’s health. Even, it turns out, if that man is the father of your child. Children living with cohabiting biological parents are still four times more likely to experience physical abuse than children living with married biological parents, for example.

The second surprise is that the second-best family form is arguably the single mother who lives without a partner. Children living with an unpartnered single parent were “only” three times more likely to be physically abused than children living with their married mom and dad.

(I suspect if the scholars were able to isolate single mothers who obey the Dr. Laura rule—no dating until your child turns 18— this family form would look even better, at least for the child!)

Children long for a mother and father who are committed to each other and to them. Failing that, children long for a mother whose attention, time and emotional space are not subdivided with men who want to sleep with her.

The “carousel of intimate relationships,” as Andrew Cherlin called it, is hurting our kids.

Most important moral question
The most important moral question every adult faces is: Which matters more to me—my love life, or my child’s love life?

Most of the really bad things good people do to their kids come from burying that question, rather than facing it squarely.

Here are some of the questions we prefer not to ask ourselves so we can pursue our passions with an undisturbed conscience:

Keep reading.

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2 Responses to “The divorce paradox”

  1. tom in ohio says:

    I’d like to read the whole thing, but when I hit “keep reading” it takes me to today’s Manila Times. Where can I read the whole thing?

    tom in ohio

  2. Betsy says:

    Sorry, it’s so old it’s no longer on-line. Perhaps if you do a search for the author, you can find her articles elsewhere. Sorry. :/