Is children’s development, and children’s cognitive development in particular, affected by the marital status of their parents? On the face of it, this seems to be a simple question to which there is an intuitively simple answer: yes. Yet the answer to this question is anything but simple. The complexity of this question, the policy context that has helped shape a growing body of related research, and the implications of findings for policy and practice are discussed below. The following discussion is based on my remarks during the plenary session of Connecting Marriage Research to Practice, a conference sponsored by The African American Healthy Marriage Initiative.
While we can readily observe that children in married-parent families tend to be significantly better off than children raised by single or cohabiting parents, it is more difficult to discern how much better off children without married parents would be if their parents were to marry. An extensive body of research on this topic suggests that marriage would confer benefits on these children, even those within disadvantaged families.
The research further suggests that the conduits for these benefits tend to be attributes commonly associated with marriage, such as improved economics and stronger family processes, more so than the marital choice itself. These findings help us understand why marriage matters and provide valuable insights for policy and practice within the Healthy Marriage Initiative.
For the complete issue brief, please see the attached PDF version below.