Economics of Children
Pro-marriage scholars argue that children raised in two-parent households do better than others. There seems to be fleeting recognition that the benefits of this family structure have much to do with the economic benefits of resources from two adults, but what's interesting is that these conservative activists seem to get tripped-up on the directionality of the association. The pro-marriage proponents mistakenly link the positive outcomes in children from these households to the result of the economic gains from the institution of marriage. However, the data indicates that those with financial resources are more likely to get married in the first place. Given this, it’s likely that the financial advantages preceding the legalized coupling offer a more compelling explanation for why these kids do better: the economic and social resources available to their parents in the first place that led these adults to marry, not necessarily the marriage itself, may be driving the benefits.
Gender or the Family Structure?
Taking the pro-marriage proponents’ spurious argument to its next logical conclusion, marriage advocates should be for same-sex marriage, since they believe marriage is best for children. However, in order to avoid that logical deduction, these conservative activists are spending their time this week restricting their argument to straight marriage as the answer for child well-being, not marriage per se. Advocating that children only thrive when raised by married, heterosexual parents, they reason LGBT couples should be discriminated against because they aren't providing children with this rigid gendered family structure. However, no social science data backs up these claims and thus they are on shaky ground. (Hence the need to make up data to support their ideological position.) Thus, they continually conflate their arguments about family structure and rigid gender roles as a way to restrict their logic solely to arguments that reinforce their conservative ideology. Interestingly, they have to take a both/and approach: kids can thrive only within the climate of marriage as a family structure AND only with a male and female parental unit. Arguing only the grounds of marriage opens them up to supporting marriage equality, but advocating purely for heterosexual parenting would necessarily broaden their support beyond marriage as the only familial structure.
Unsurprisingly, they make no mention of the fact that most kids do not grow up within the limited family structure they advocate and that most children grow up to be outstanding citizens. In fact, all evidence to the contrary, they pick and choose their data about what’s best for children. Because, if they got real about what’s best for children, and didn't co-opt the voices of children to tout their narrow agenda, these pro-marriage crusaders would be on unfamiliar ground. They are right that kids do best with stability, but that has as much to do with economic security as it does with consistent parental involvement. Don’t get me wrong, having dependable and loving adults in a child’s life is crucial, but marriage does not guarantee that. Children do best with an abundance of healthy, loving adults in their lives, irrelevant of their marital status. They do best when they aren't worried about where their next meal comes from, when their parents have time to help them with homework and especially when their families have a consistent income. Marriage may be sufficient to offer some of these benefits, but it is certainly not necessary. A broader policy agenda would actually achieve these positive outcomes for a larger segment of society: affordable housing and childcare, parental support and education, well-paid employment opportunities, flexible leave, paid parental and sick leave. These changes could do as much or more for children – that is, if society were actually concerned about children, and less with promoting a stereotypical family structure.
The Left Is also Promoting this Faux Solution
I’m not suggesting that those on the right of the political spectrum are the only ones advocating this false supposition. In truth, LGBT couples adopt this line of reasoning as a talking point for achieving marriage equality – our kids want us to get married, it would ease the adoption process and decrease the barriers of co-parenting when interacting with institutions such as schools and doctor’s offices. These are all very real reasons to desire marriage. However, again, there are more progressive solutions to be offered that would benefit families of all types: providing an option for single parents to appoint designated friends and family members as emergency contacts; streamlining health, medical, and custody decisions for separated and divorced families; strengthening legal rights for grandparents raising grandchildren; overhauling adoption rules to promote access to any qualified adult who has the desire and means to provide a loving home for children in need, regardless of their marital status, gender identity, or sexual orientation. These legal benefits and securities that benefit kids as the result of marriage have more to do with our society’s illogical conflation of marriage and child-rearing than with progressive policies that promote child welfare for everyone, regardless of family structure.
There are benefits to marriage in today’s society, but it is not the magical solution to child welfare that some would have us believe. Promoting marriage as a child welfare strategy without addressing the root causes of child well-being is a set-up for failure.