Data Show Benefits of Families

By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, MARCH 10, 2008 - 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 mothers.

A recent report confirmed that the role of the father is, indeed, necessary for children. The February issue of
the journal Acta Paedriatica published an article titled: “Fathers’ Involvement and Children’s Developmental
Outcomes: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies.”

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 child rearing.”

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.”

Effects on children

Another study, published last week by the Institute for American Values’ Center for Marriage and Families,
confirms that academic research is now favoring the family. In “The Shift and the Denial: Scholarly Attitudes
Toward Family Change, 1977-2002,” authors Norval Glenn and Thomas Sylvester with Alex Roberts, document
how scholarly opinion has evolved.

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

Fiscal discrimination

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 address."

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.”

European concerns

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 European
Community (COMECE).

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 report adverted.

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 September.

“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.