From individuals, to families, to the general population at-large, marriage is essential to society. A committed marriage provides the best arrangement for the well-being of both spouses and children. Marriage provides a more stable environment for personal growth and development than any other living arrangement.
Yet many families in today’s culture are rent apart by separation, divorce, and civil remarriage. Former spouses and children are left to suffer the effects—effects so pervasive and widespread that virtually no one has been left untouched.
Seeing society move away from marriage, some Synod fathers have suggested loosening the Church’s teaching on marriage. They claim that this would be a more compassionate and merciful approach. But, as research in demography and the social sciences demonstrates, the most compassionate approach is to strengthen and defend marriage from the attacks of modern culture. Preserving first-time marriages is the most merciful option.
It has long been known that marriage provides emotional support for children, reduces risk for engagement in deviant and antisocial behaviors, and even increases the amount of money men will earn over the course of their careers. But marriage is also an essential component to positive population indicators and overall societal well-being. It is an irreplaceable institution.
Marriage and Mortality Rates
Take infant mortality, for instance. Raw data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveals that infants born to unmarried mothers are over 70 percent more likely to die in the first year after birth than infants whose mothers are married. In 2013, unmarried births accounted for less than half of total births, some 41 percent. Yet total infant deaths among unmarried mothers exceeded infant deaths among married mothers by a margin of over 2,000. Even though mortality margins have decreased over the past few decades, large gaps between married and unmarried remain.
Fetal mortality rates are higher among unmarried mothers as well. According to data from the National Vital Statistics Reports for 2013, unmarried mothers lost their unborn child at a rate of 7.25 for every 1,000 live births. For married mothers, fetal mortality was noticeably lower at 4.77 per 1,000 live births. Half of all fetal deaths occurred to unmarried mothers.
Being unmarried has long been known to be a risk factor for infant and fetal mortality. Marriage, on the other hand, is associated with a wide range of benefits for newborns. These include a reduced risk of low birth weight, preterm birth, and small-for-gestational-age complications. Risk factors remain even when controlling for other variables such as income, mother’s education, mother’s age, unemployment status, having had a prior abortion, maternal diabetes, and short parity intervals.
These differences remain even in Scandinavian countries where health care for pregnancy is free and widely accessed. For example, some 99.7% of mothers in Finland receive prenatal and postnatal care during and after their pregnancies. Add to this the fact that welfare benefits for single mothers are generous. Yet even in these circumstances, where access to health care is universal, marital status makes a difference.
But infants are not the only ones to benefit from marriage. Marriage also affects adult mortality rates. A comprehensive study carried out in Japan revealed that married men are significantly less likely than their widowed, divorced or single counterparts to die of stroke, coronary heart or cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses, or physical trauma.
Divorced women are more than twice as likely to die from respiratory illnesses and more than 30 percent more likely to die from a stroke than the married. Divorced men are more than twice as likely as married men to die from respiratory illnesses, physical injury (including accidents and suicide), and more than half again as likely to die from coronary heart or cardiovascular diseases.
Marriage provides a more stable environment in which mothers can provide the care that their children need both before and after birth. Married mothers are more likely than their unmarried counterparts to obtain prenatal care before the third trimester. They are also less likely to smoke or use illegal drugs while pregnant.
Mothers and their children also benefit from the greater financial resources that come with greater household specialization, a factor believed to contribute directly to higher income among married men in contrast to their unmarried counterparts. Greater specialization not only provides financial benefits but also helps to reduce the stresses involved with pregnancy. The higher incomes that result from the financial synergy of married couples also likely enables greater access to health insurance coverage and quality health care.