GUESS GOD KNOWS BEST
BY GLENN T. STANTON
Olivia Cobb will be a junior at a state college in the Pacific
Northwest when she returns to school this fall. As a Christian with a sociology major, she likes the intellectual challenge of having to defend her beliefs in a secular arena.
Last spring, one of her required courses was “SOC-104: Sociology of the American Family.” She looked forward to taking the class, since her own family is so important to her. Raised with four brothers and sisters in a Christian home, Olivia believes her parents gave her a wonderful start in life.
Olivia soon discovered that her professor, a recognized family scholar and author, also held some definite views on the value of family. Her professor announced early in the semester that she was a social progressive who would quickly challenge any “traditional” thinking from her students. Olivia pondered that statement for a while.
One day, the professor opened class by asking, “Should there be a
cultural model norm-for family life in America?”
Much of the class looked puzzled. To raise a hand was to give an answer that required a value judgment, and everyone in the class knew it. One student tested the waters by declaring that “love” should be the one necessary ingredient for a good family. Others nodded in agreement, and the professor looked satisfied.
Olivia, knowing that a good family is a bit more complex, decided to raise her hand. “I believe that since families are the building blocks of society, our culture can be only as strong as our families,” she said. “In order to have strong families, we should have norms that include, but also go beyond, ‘love The classroom froze for a moment. Didn’t she know what she was saying? Olivia wasn’t through, however. “For instance, it’s best for men and women to save sex for its proper place-marriage,” she stated.
A wave of snickers swept across the room, and a fleeting look of condescension could be detected on the professor’s face. But Olivia kept boldly to her course.
“In addition, people are better off when they are married,” she said. “Therefore, premarital cohabitation and divorce should, once again, be socially stigmatized.”
Is this young woman for real? the professor seemed to be thinking. What rock did she climb out from under?
Olivia, gaining confidence, remained undaunted. “All children should be born to or adopted by both a mother and a father who are married and live under the same roof. These should be the norms for family life in our culture.”
For a moment, Olivia thought all the air had been sucked out of the room.
Many students were shocked, and Olivia saw a few roll their eyes. Then she heard one student whisper, “How could she be so old-fashioned?”
The professor did little to hide her anger. “Thank you for that nice sermon, Miss Cobb, but let me bring you up to date. Check out the newspaper. This is the 20th century, and we’ve moved beyond that premodern, patriarchal, slave-master, ‘Leave-It-to-Beaver’ mentality of the Judeo-Christian family. In the Dark Ages, it was acceptable to take things on faith, but since then we’ve had a little development called the Enlightenment. If you’re going to make such bold claims, you should be able to support them.”
Walking up to Olivia’s seat, the professor asked, “How would you like to write your term paper defending your thesis? And remember, you have to support your case with recognized scientific data, not with warm religious sentiments.”
Some of the students laughed. A few felt badly for Olivia, who tried to recall how God had come into the discussion. But the challenge had been thrown down, and she wasn’t about to back away. I know that what God says about family life is true, she thought, but what will the research show? Is His idea of the family empirically defensible by scientific research?
Olivia headed straight to the library after lunch. Searching the library’s online card catalog, she found a number of titles on the issue of family well-being. She also sat down at a computer terminal and began surfing the Internet for data bases containing social science journal articles. After several hours, Olivia had gathered a wealth of information.
For the next month, Olivia poured herself into the term paper. Once she began writing, she felt confident that she could defend the traditional family using mainstream social science research.
Evidence on Abstinence
Olivia found strong data revealing that it is indeed wiser to wait until marriage to engage in sexual intercourse Besides underlining the possibility of becoming one of the 68 million Americans who has contracted an incurable sexually transmitted disease,, research showed that sex is more satisfying for those who wait until marriage.
A recent survey of sexuality, which was called the “most authoritative ever” by U.S. News & World Report, provided some definite answers. This survey, conducted jointly by researchers at State University of New York at Stony Brook and the University of Chicago, found that of all sexually active people, “the people who reported being most physically pleased and emotionally satisfied were the married couples.”
These researchers found not only that sex is better in marriage, but it is best if you have had only one sexual partner in a lifetime. “Physical and emotional satisfaction started to decline when people had more than one sexual partner,”‘ the researchers stated.
Married People Are Better Off
Olivia also established solid support for her assertion that people are better off when married. First, she found that married people have healthier unions than couples who live together. Research from Washington State University revealed, “Cohabiting couples compared to married couples have less healthy relationships.”‘
Second, the data proved married people are generally better off in all measures of well-being. Researchers at UCLA explained that “cohabitors experienced significantly more difficulty in [subsequent] marriages with [issues of adultery, alcohol, drugs and independence than couples who had not cohabited.” In fact, marriages preceded by cohabitation are 50 to 100 percent more likely to break up than those marriages not preceded by cohabitation.’
With a national discussion about “wife beating” prompted by the O.J. Simpson trial, Olivia discovered that “wife beating” should more properly be called “girlfriend beating.” The reason is, according to the Journal of Marriage and the Family, that “aggression is at least twice as common among cohabitors as ” it is among married partners.
Olivia also found that married people enjoy better physical and mental health. Dr. Robert Coombs. a biobehavioral scientist at UCLA, conducted a review of more than 130 studies on the relationship between well-being and marital status, concluding that “there is an intimate link between the two.”
Coombs found married people had significantly lower rates of alcoholism, suicide, psychiatric care, and higher rates of self-reported happiness.’ One of the most respected studies in the field of psychiatry said those in married relationships experienced a lower rate of severe depression than people in any other category.9 The numbers were as follows (annual rate of major depression per 1 00):
Married (never divorced) 1.5
Never married 2.4
Divorced once 4.1
Divorced twice 5.8
Regarding physical health, researchers at the University of Massachusetts showed that married people experience less disease, morbidity and disability than do those who are divorced or separated. Their explanation: “One of the most consistent observations in health research is that the married enjoy better health than those of other [relational] statuses.”
In addition, the U.S. Department of justice reported in 1994 that men and women are at much greater risk of being assaulted if they are not married.” Here were the rates per 1,000 for generalaggravated assaults against:
Divorced or separated 13.6
Never married 23.4
Divorced or separated 9.4
Never married 11.9
Clearly, the safest, healthiest place for men and women is marriage.
Best Environment to Raise Children
What data supported Olivia’s claim that children fare better in homes where there are two parents who are married? She looked at more books, government reports and research journal articles. On this topic, she literally found more material than she could read.The bulk of the material showed that, on average, children do better in all areas when raised by two married parents who live together.
The most authoritative work done in this area is by Dr. Sara McLanahan of Princeton University. In Growing Up With a Single Parent, she explains, “Children who grow up in a household with only one biological parent are worse off, on average, than children who grow up … with both of their biological parents, regardless of the parents’ race or educational background.”
She continues, “Adolescents who have lived apart from one of their parents during some period of childhood are twice as likely to drop out of high school … to have a child before age 20, and one-and-a-half times as likely to be idle-out of school and out of working their late twenties. “]
Dr. George Rekers, a practicing clinical psychologist and professor at the University of South Carolina, agreed with McLanahan: “Research has documented that children without fathers more often have lowered academic performance, more cognitive and intellectual deficits, increased adjustment problems, and higher risks for psychosexual development problems.”
Dr. David Popenoe, a noted family scholar from Rutgers University, explained that there can be no serious debate over this issue: “I know of few other bodies of data in which the weight of evidence is so decisively on one side of the issue. On the whole, for children, two-parent families are preferable.
… If our prevailing views on family structure hinged solely on scholarly evidence, the current debate never would have arisen in the first place.”
It isn’t just having an additional adult in the home that will help solve the problems facing single-parent families. A sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania said: “Most studies show that children in stepfamilies do not do better than children in single parent families; indeed, many indicate that, on average, children in remarriages do worse.”
Olivia was disturbed to find that stepfamilies are the second-fastest growing family structure in America. The fastest is created by out-of-wedlock births.
When Death Creates a Single-Parent Family
Olivia was intrigued to find that single-parent families created by the death of a spouse have a natural protective mechanism distinguishing them from other single-parent families. Dr. James Egan, a child psychiatrist at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C., provocatively asserted, “A dead father is a more effective father than a missing father.”
This is simply because when a father (or mother) dies, he still maintains a place of authority, influence and moral leadership in the home. Parents who have departed due to death usually leave positive reputations. Their pictures remain on the wall, they are talked about positively, and negative behavior on the part of a child can be corrected with a simple reminder: “Would your dad (or mom approve of that kin of behavior?” if the father has abandoned the child or was never identified, the answer to that question is either “Who cares?” or, even worse, “Who?”
Coming to a Conclusion
When Olivia started to write her paper, she thought about all she had learned and wondered why she had been nervous about the assignment. She knew that at creation, God set certain laws into motion with intelligence and intention. This included a norm for family life.
She thought, When those laws are broadly violated by a culture, why should be surprised that the problems show up in the research? After all. this is my Father’s world.
Emboldened, Olivia wrote her term paper on the family. She received a B on the following note from her professor: “I hope I never have to read a paper like this again.”
Glenn T. Stanton is a social research analyst for the public policy division of Focus on the Family.
The above material was published by Focus On The Family, August 1995, pages 2,3,4. This material is copyrighted and may be used for study & research purposes only.