Social science often delights in being counterintuitive, in ginning up findings that defy our pre-existing expectations. Sometimes, however, studies produce results that are not particularly eye-catching because they conform with our intuitions. (And in this disorienting age, those findings can be particularly valuable.)
Today’s example: A new paper finds that students in communities with a higher number of married parents perform better in school than students in communities with weaker family structures (controlling for other demographic factors, of course). From the Institute of Family Studies blog:
A new report published today … highlight(s) the significance of family structure to the academic success of both boys and girls in Arizona. Co-authored by IFS Senior Fellow W. Bradford Wilcox and Nicholas Zill, Strong Families, Better Schools finds that the presence of more married families in a school district is not only linked to higher graduation rates overall, but also to greater gender parity. This means that boys in Arizona are more likely to graduate, and to graduate at levels that parallel those of girls, in districts with more married families. In fact, the share of married families is a better predictor of high school graduation rates and gender equality in Arizona public school districts than are child poverty, race, and ethnicity in those districts.
As the authors note, their findings reinforce David Autor’s findings that boys, for whatever reason, feel the brunt of the impact from family breakdown. It may be that most children raised in single-parent families are raised by their mothers, and boys’ academic and social development is especially dependent on the presence of a male role model. To compound the problem, fatherlessness leads boys to be less academically and economically successful, more likely to be involved with the criminal justice system, and therefore less likely to get married themselves.
Most of all, the study provides concrete evidence of the benefits of a two-parent family structure—if not to parents, to their children—at a time when cultural liberals are increasingly inclined to dismiss it as an anachronism. It’s not. The evidence continues to build: If we are concerned about social equality and the well-being of children—particularly disadvantaged ones—supporting and encouraging family-formation should be a high priority.