Marriage is the foundational relationship for all of society. In marriage are contained the five basic institutions of society: family, church, school, marketplace and government. Social science shows the significant contributions marriage has for children’s education.
Children raised in intact married families tend to earn higher grades than those in non-intact families.1) For example, kindergarten children from married families have higher reading scores than those from cohabiting families.2) Parents in always-intact married families are also more likely to help their children do their homework than are parents in stepfamilies or single-parent families,3) and fathers in always-intact married families are more involved in their children’s homework than are stepfathers.4) Compared with children in stable married families, students experiencing parental divorce have lower academic expectations and test scores.5)
The National Longitudinal Survey of Youth shows that students most likely to receive A’s in school are those who grew up in an intact married family. About 28 percent of students who grew up in an intact married family received mostly A’s, followed by students from intact cohabiting families (21 percent), single divorced parent families (18 percent), married stepfamilies (15 percent), cohabiting stepfamilies (11 percent), and always single parent families (9 percent).6) (See Chart)
According to the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health, students who live with their married biological parents carry the highest average combined GPA, or grade point average, for English and math (2.9). Those whose parents never married or who live with cohabiting adults, only one of whom is a natural parent, have the lowest (2.5). Slightly above that group are students living with stepparents, divorced parents, or both unmarried biological parents (2.6). 7) (See Chart)
The benefits of marriage for education are also seen in parents’ and children’s level of education. Having obtained a Bachelor’s degree or higher is most common among mothers in intact marriages.8) Children from intact families exceed their parents’ educational attainment–sons by 2.8 years, daughters by 2.5 years–after controlling for mother’s level of education.9) Children from intact married families have the highest high school graduation rate and are more likely to gain more education after graduating from high school than those from other family structures.10) Children from divorced families, on the other hand, get an average of seven-tenths of a year less education than children from married families.11)
According to the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, 91 percent of youth raised by their married biological parents received a high school diploma. They are followed by those in married stepfamilies (80 percent), single divorced parent families (76 percent), cohabiting stepfamilies (68 percent), always single parent families (63 percent), and biological cohabiting parent families (60 percent).12) (See Chart)
Always-married mothers are significantly more likely to have received a bachelor's degree than their counterparts. The National Survey of Family Growth shows that 41.7 percent of mothers aged 35-44 in always-intact marriages have earned a bachelor’s degree, followed by mothers in married stepfamilies (20.2 percent), those who are divorced (18.1 percent), those in intact cohabiting relationships (11.1 percent), those who have always been single (8.2 percent), and those in cohabiting stepfamilies (6.8 percent).13) (See Chart)
Children of married parents are more engaged in school than children from all other family structures.14) Children from intact families have fewer behavioral problems in school.15) First-grade children born to married mothers are less likely to exhibit disruptive behavior, such as disobeying a teacher or behaving aggressively towards peers, than children born to cohabiting or single mothers.16) Adolescents from intact married families are less frequently suspended, expelled, or delinquent, and less frequently experience school problems than children from other family structures.17)
According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, Waves I and II, 20 percent of students in Grades 7-12 who live with their married, biological parents have ever been suspended or expelled from school. By contrast, more than 50 percent of adolescents who live with a single, never-married parent have ever been suspended or expelled. In between are those who live with two biological cohabiting parents (34.3 percent), those living with a step-parent (35.9 percent), those whose parents are divorced (37 percent), and those who live with one biological cohabiting parent (40.8 percent).18)
Based on the National Survey of Children’s Health, children who live with both biological parents or two adoptive parents are only one third as likely to have ever repeated a grade in school as those who living with their mother only, with one biological parent and a stepparent, or in other family configurations, such as with their father only or with foster parents.The respective rates of grade repetition found in the survey were 6.5 percent for those living with both parents, 19.9 percent for those living with mother only, 21.8 percent for those living with a parent and stepparent, and 21.9 percent for those living in other family configurations.19) (See Chart Below)
The more success a child experiences in school, the more success the child will enjoy in the workplace as an adult. Educational attainment largely predicts lifetime earnings. According to estimates calculated in 2011, Americans with doctorate degrees will earn, on average, $3.5 million in a lifetime; professional degrees, $4.1 million; master’s degrees, $2.8 million; bachelor’s degrees, $2.4 million; associate’s degrees, $1.8 million; some college, $1.6 million; high school degrees, $1.3 million.21) Another study from 2011 shows the median annual incomes of various education levels for workers 25 to 64 years old. People with doctorate degrees earn $73,575 annually, those with professional degrees $79,977, those with master’s degrees $53,716, and those with bachelor’s degrees $42,783.22) Thus, a college graduate earns almost double over his lifetime compared to a high school graduate. A college degree, therefore, is a good investment over a lifetime. Those with a professional degree (i.e., law degree) earn nearly double than those with a college degree, despite the high cost of graduate school.