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W. Bradford Wilcox
Marriage in Men's Livesby Steven L. Nock, Oxford Univ. Press, 165 pp., $29.95
Anyone in search of contemporary miracles need look no farther than the field of sociology. In the last decade, some of the most vocal and articulate proponents of life-long marriage have emerged from top sociology departments around the country-from Norval Glenn at the University of Texas to Linda Waite at the University of Chicago. This development is particularly miraculous since many of these social scientists were once equally vocal and articulate advocates of a laissez faire approach to family life. This laissez faire approach held that increases in divorce, illegitimacy, and the like amounted to changes in the form but not necessarily the quality of American family life-at least after controlling for factors like income disparities between single- and two-parent families.
What accounts for this intellectual sea change? This development has largely been driven by sustained quantitative research on child well-being by family scholars possessed of an admirable liberality of mind and a commitment to follow the data wherever it may lead. For instance, in one of the most influential books on the topic, Growing Up With a Single Parent (Harvard Univ. Press, 1994), Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur found that children who grew up in single-parent-families and step-families were significantly more likely to drop out of high school, get pregnant, or drop out of the labor force than children who were raised in an intact two-parent home. Moreover, differences in income between different family types accounted for only 50 percent of these negative effects.
These findings led McLanahan and Sandefur to a conclusion that could easily be translated into the language of natural law:
If we were asked to design a system for making sure that children's basic needs were met, we would probably come up with something quite similar to the two-parent family ideal. Such a design, in theory, would not only ensure that ...