November 2010 Archives

Who Needs Marriage? Children Do

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As reported in Time Magazine's November 18th cover story, according to a new Pew Research Center nationwide survey, a growing number of Americans believe that "marriage, whatever its social, spiritual, or symbolic appeal, is in purely practical terms just not as necessary as it used to be."

The claim raises the question, "not necessary for whom?"

The Future of Children's Fragile Families study, referenced in Time's feature, Who Needs Marriage?, suggests that for some, and particularly for children, marriage is more necessary than ever.

And despite the more general findings that Americans believe that marriage is unnecessary for a host of issues, when it comes to raising kids, more than three-quarters say it's best done married.

As The Future of Children: Fragile Families journal explains, fragile families - defined as couples who are unmarried when their children are born - face greater risks than more traditional families, which can have negative consequences on child wellbeing. Simply put, stable, two parent homes have greater monetary and emotional resources to support their children's development. And in the United States, marriage has the greatest chance of achieving relationship stability which leads to stability for children.

So where do we go from here?

The Future of Children Fragile Families journal shows that, contrary to popular belief, most unwed parents have close and loving relationships at the time of their child's birth. However, at five years after birth only 35 percent of unwed parents are still together. These first moments in a child's life present a unique opportunity to work with couples to strengthen unwed parents' relationship and parenting skills.

At the Brookings Institution Fragile Families launch on October 27, 2010, a young man summarized the impact of such program participation on his views about children and marriage.

"When we went to this class, and I listened to the statistics about the married couples and the unmarried couples and how much it would benefit my child for us to be married, I took advantage of that. I want my child to be raised to be a man, and I love my girlfriend. It was a no-brainer, but it really took learning about my child's future to help me put it together."

While a growing number of Americans may view marriage as a dying institution, its benefits for children are clear. As our nation's poverty rate continues to climb, preventing and strengthening fragile families will become increasingly important.

For more information on fragile families and our policy recommendations to support them, please go to The Future of Children's full volume on Fragile Families.

A new study published in Psychological Science confirms research cited in The Future of Children's Children and Electronic Media issue, which suggests that educational videos for infants have little effect on learning.

In the recent study, led by Judy S. DeLoache of the University of Virginia, results demonstrated that children who viewed a best-selling infant-learning DVD, whether with their parents or without, did not learn any more words from their month-long exposure than did the control group. In fact, the highest level of learning occurred in the no-video condition in which parents tried to teach their children the same target words from the DVD during everyday activities.

These findings confirm previous research, which indicates that children under the age of eighteen months learn better from real-life experiences than from video. This is in part due to children's inability to understand television. Research studying eye patterns and attention to television shows that young children may be inattentive to dialogue and fail to integrate comprehension across successive scenes. Infants cannot imitate behaviors seen in video or transfer images learned from video to real-world problems, such as object-retrieval.

While more research is needed on infants and media, current research recommends basic methods to increase your infant's learning: talk to and interact with your baby.

For more information on the relationship between media and children of all ages, go to The Future of Children's volume on Children and Electronic Media.

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