Data Show Benefits of Families By Father John Flynn, LC
But Some Governments Still Work Against Marriage
Research into the family continues to confirm the
importance of two parents as the best basis for
bringing up children. One common problem in the last
few decades is the absence of fathers, and the
corresponding rise of families headed by single
The article was authored by four academics: Anna
Sarkadi, Robert Kristiansson, Frank Oberklaid and
Sven Bremberg. They reviewed the conclusions from 24
studies. Of these, fewer than 22 provided evidence
of the positive effects of involvement by fathers.
An active fatherhood role not only reduced the
frequency of behavioral problems in boys and
psychological problems in young women, but it also
had a positive effect on cognitive development,
along with decreasing delinquency and economic
disadvantage in low-income families.
In spite of the convincing amount of evidence, the
study observed: "Unfortunately, current
institutional policies in most countries do not
support the increased involvement of fathers in
Some of the studies distinguished between biological
fathers and father figures who cohabit with the
children, but the authors commented that more study
is needed on the role of a biological bond between
the father figure and the child. Some results
indicate that non-biological father figures can play
an important role for children in their households.
There is evidence, as well, that biological fathers
may be salient in a specific way, they noted.
Overall, however, they concluded, "[T]here is
evidence to indicate that father engagement
positively affects the social, behavioral,
psychological and cognitive outcomes of children."
They studied the 266 articles published in the
Journal of Marriage and Family from 1977-2002
related to how family structure affects children. "Overall,
we found strong evidence that scholars have become
more concerned about the effects of family change on
children," they concluded.
As the years have gone by scholars have become more
aware of the possible negative effects of divorce
and unwed childbearing on children, the study
observed. This was particularly the case, the
authors noted, when the studies were empirical, as
opposed to an opinion-style article.
Glenn and Sylvester also affirmed: "[T]here now is
widespread agreement that there have been negative
effects from recent family changes that are strong
enough and pervasive enough to be important."
In spite of research demonstrating the importance of
two-parent families tax systems in many countries
discriminate against married couples. A couple of
recent research reports by a British charity
demonstrate the extent of this fiscal penalty
CARE -- Christian Action Research and Education --
published a study Jan. 22 titled: "Taxation of
Married Families: How the UK Compares
Internationally." According to CARE, in 2006 a
married couple with one working spouse and two
children on average earnings of 30,800 pounds
($62,174) a year paid 40% more tax in the UK than in
comparable countries belonging to the Organization
for Economic Cooperation and Development.
Compared with European Union states, one-earner
married families are paying 25% the report accused.
The study took into account the amount families gain
from tax credits and child benefits.
According to CARE other countries with a similar tax
system that discriminates against married couples
include Finland, Sweden and New Zealand.
Nevertheless, many other countries do make some
allowance for family circumstances.
A second CARE report, published in February, looked
at the situation of low-income families, finding
that the penalty for living together, rather than
apart, has increased. In the study titled "Second
Annual Review of the Couple Penalty," they found
that in 75 of the 98 family cases considered, the
couples faired better living apart after housing
costs were taken into account, compared with 71 last
year. On average, these couples were better off by
69 pounds ($139) per week, compared with 63 pounds
($127) last year.
"The presence of a clear and growing fiscal
incentive for couples with children on low to modest
incomes to live apart is profoundly concerning,"
declared Nola Leach, chief executive of CARE in the
report's foreword. "There is no doubt that it is in
the best interests of children to grow up with both
their mother and father living with them at the same
The report cited data from the U.K. Office of
National Statistics, which notes there are 1.2
million couples who are engaged in "non-residential
cohabitation." The couples are together, and have
children in common, but live apart. There is
anecdotal evidence, the report added, that such
couples are making this choice for reasons related
to tax credits and welfare benefits.
As well, the latest Office of National Statistics
estimates for the number of lone parents with
dependent children is 1.8 million, CARE added.
Urging a change to the current fiscal system the
report commented: "Breaking the cycle of poverty by
encouraging the formation and maintenance of stable
families would make a major contribution to reducing
long-term poverty and, of equal importance, improve
outcomes for children."
Discrimination against families in Britain may be
worse than in many other countries, but there is
reason to be concerned about the situation in Europe
as a whole, according to a recent document published
by the Commission of the Bishops' Conferences of the
Last November they released a report titled "Proposal
for a Strategy of the European Union for the Support
of Couples and Marriage."
COMECE argued that the breakdown of family life
results in high social and economic costs for
society and governments. The break-up of marriages
is, in many cases, "a psychological and moral
disaster for the partners involved, and the children
involved often suffer traumatic experiences," the
From 1980-2005 the number of divorces has increased
by more than 50%, according to the document. Just in
the last 15 years there have been more than 13,5
million divorces, affecting over 21 million children.
Children who live with a father or a mother alone
run a much higher risk of poverty, the report
observed. Therefore, reducing the number of divorces
would help to reduce the poverty risk for children.
"It is in Europe's general interest to support and
strengthen that stable and responsible relationship
between a man and a woman, of which marriage is the
ideal expression," the European bishops argued.
The report listed a wide variety of measures
governments could take to help married couples. The
proposals ranged from better preparation before
marriage, to greater support from educational
institutions and businesses for couples. As well,
economic support to find housing for young married
couples is an area where governments could do more,
the report urged.
The European bishops also asked that steps should be
taken to ensure that in economic terms there should
be no discrimination against those couples who
decide that one of them stays at home while the
other is engaged in paid employment.
The report concluded by citing an address by
Benedict XVI to public authorities and the
diplomatic corps during his visit to Austria last
"Encourage young married couple to establish new
families and to become mothers and fathers! You will
not only assist them, but you will benefit society
as a whole," the Pontiff exhorted. A recommendation
valid for governments around the world.