Study: Young men from ‘intact’ families — with married mom and dad — fare better in life

(OSV News) — Young men from “non-intact” families without a father are more likely to end up in prison or jail than to graduate from college, according to the findings of a new study from the Institute for Family Studies, a Charlottesville, Virginia-based think tank dedicated to researching marriage, family life and the well-being of children.

“The Family-to-Prison-or-College Pipeline: Married Fathers and Young Men’s Transition to Adulthood” — written by Brad Wilcox, Sam Herrin, Jessie Smith and Wendy Wang — also notes that young men from intact families are twice as likely to graduate from college than those from non-intact families.

“Family structure,” the study adds, “is more predictive than race when considering these life outcomes.”

Wilcox is the Future of Freedom fellow at the institute, or IFS, and a professor and director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia. Herrin is a recent economics graduate from Georgia College & State University; Wang is director of research at IFS; and Smith is an assistant professor of sociology at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

“We see for young men today a family-to-prison-or-college pipeline that sees greater likelihood of young men from intact families headed towards college graduation,” the authors assert, “and young men from non-intact families headed towards prison or jail.”

Much media attention has recently centered on young men’s “failure to launch” — an inability to leave home and support oneself — a trend examined in books such as “Boys Adrift” by Leonard Sax and “Of Boys and Men” by Richard Reeves. Progressive advocate Melinda Gates — wife of Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates and a champion of women’s issues — has expressed her own concern, pledging $20 million to Reeves’ American Institute for Boys and Men.

The importance of marriage

“IFS’ latest research shows marriage is absolutely vital in forming boys to become healthy men,” said J.P. De Gance, president and CEO of Communio, a Virginia-based nonprofit ministry that trains and equips churches to renew healthy relationships, marriages and the family. “It also shows what we have always known to be true but have forgotten as a culture — marriage is vital for a healthy society,” he told OSV News.

The research, De Gance suggested, discredits a popular cultural narrative.

“Many wrongly attribute the cause of men’s problems today to some sort of fictional narrative about the origins of toxic masculinity,” said De Gance. “This research shows that, on average, boys thrive when they experience authentic masculinity through a married dad in the home.”

Parallels with other research

The research also parallels Communio’s research results, De Gance shared.

“Our own research in the Nationwide Study on Faith and Relationships reinforces these findings,” said De Gance. “Boys from married homes are not only less likely to show up in jail — which IFS’s research shows — they are also far more likely to show up to church on Sundays as adults.”

In his January 2023 address to the Roman Rota, the highest appellate tribunal of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis affirmed, “In the Christian economy of salvation, marriage constitutes first and foremost the high road to holiness, a holiness lived out in ordinary life.”

Support for strong family units

Michael O’Rourke — founder of Strong Catholic Dad, an Indianapolis-based ministry that aims to equip and strengthen fathers for their family vocation — also echoed IFS’ conclusions.

“God made the family in his own image as a community of persons in an eternal exchange of love. That truth is deeply embedded in the fabric of our being,” O’Rourke told OSV News. “When children are denied the loving presence of their own father and mother, that deficit creates a cascade of emotional and spiritual wounds that impact them for a lifetime. We must pray for parents and do everything we can to support them in their vocation to parenthood.”

It’s a vocation, all agree, that requires a strong and stable family unit.

“Repairing masculinity on a societal-wide level absent marriage is impossible,” emphasized De Gance. “We need to share the good news that marriage was God’s gift to all of humanity. It remains a great deal for everyone: children, women and men.”

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