Healthy Marriages: Protecting Women and Children From Domestic Violence

W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia has a recent article exploring the connection between family structure and domestic violence. Drawing on new evidence, he writes,

Using data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, which surveyed more than 90,000 parents of children aged 17 and under, Zill reports that domestic violence is much lower in families headed by intact, married parents. The figure below shows differences, by family structure, in the odds that parents reported that their child had ever seen or heard “any parents, guardians, or any other adults in the home slap, hit, kick, punch, or beat each other up,” after adjusting for differences in the sex, age, and race or ethnicity of the child, as well as family income, poverty status, and parent education. So, even after controlling for…pet variables—“education, income and race”—Zill finds that homes headed by never-married, separated, or divorced mothers are about five times more likely to expose children to domestic violence, compared to homes headed by married, biological parents.

Wilcox also notes that marriage may actually be a causal factor in this stabilizing, low-conflict environment. Linking to numerous sources, Wilcox finds that “men tend to settle down after they marry, to be more attentive to the expectations of friends and kin, to be more faithful, and to be more committed to their partners—factors that minimize the risk of violence.”

He concludes that this is yet “more evidence that violence against women (not to mention their intimates and children) is markedly rarer in families headed by married parents regardless of how well-off or well- educated mom is…[W]hat should be clear to analysts willing to follow the data wherever it leads is this: a healthy marriage seems to matter more than money when it comes to minimizing the scourge of domestic violence in American families.”