Help Your Children Graduate? Stay Married

Help Your Children Graduate? Stay Married
Help Your Children Graduate? Stay Married

Children do better when their parents stay together.

The above statement is obvious to pro-family advocates. While there may be exceptions to the general rule, they automatically accept that children in stable homes have a big advantage over their peers.

A Cautionary Tale

When I began my teaching career in the mid-eighties, I had the opportunity to meet Alex Haley. He wrote Roots, a best selling 1976 book about multiple generations of an African-American family overcoming slavery and racism. I told him that I had attempted to interest my African-American students in history by highlighting Black historical events and characters. Despite this, I had not been successful. I asked if he had any suggestions.

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Mr. Haley related two experiences during a visit to Troy, New York. Unable to sleep, he walked out of his hotel and was recognized by a small group of people loitering on the street corner. As storytellers do, he engaged them in conversation, asking them about their lives. “Every one of them,” he related, “had a story of single parents, abuse, drunkenness, or drug use when they were children.”

That afternoon, Mr. Haley gave a lecture at the highly respected Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. After the talk, he asked similar questions. Every one of the students told him of close-knit families with parents who supported their ambitions.  He said no more.

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Casting Doubt on Common Knowledge

Unfortunately, academics tend to dismiss such evidence as “anecdotal.” Researchers want to know about sample sizes and variables before acknowledging any findings as definitive.

I suspect another reason for distrusting (or at least pretending to distrust) such conclusions. Such findings would serve to prove that the practices of the “sexual revolution” come at a high price for others, especially children.

That sentiment denying parental responsibility persists, despite steadily accumulating evidence of a societal collapse. Robert Franklin, JD, Member, National Board of Directors of the National Parents Organization, wrote in December 2019, referred to the idea that “the problem of fatherless or “under-fathered” kids stems from the failure on the part of the men to take up their responsibilities as dads.  It’s a common claim, particularly among those on the right of the political spectrum.  The theory seems to be that if men were somehow to become better people, the problem of fatherless kids would vanish.  The claim is terribly misguided.”

Fortunately, there is now hard empirical evidence showing how advocates for traditional families were right all along. Nicholas Zill of the Institute of Family Studies wrote a report titled, “For Getting Kids Through College, Single-Parent Families Are Not All the Same.”

Dr. Zil studies not only single and double parent families. He researches every possible combination, such as widowed mom or dad, divorced mother, adoptive parents, birth and step-parent, separated mother, cohabiting both parents, never-married mother, separated/divorced dad, foster parents, and grandparents. His goal was to analyze government data to make a connection between college graduation and the kind of home the students lived in before going to college.

The results prove the great advantage of living together with both married parents. As Dr. Zill describes, “One-third of all students earned four-year degrees, with the highest rate among students raised by married birth parents [43%]….Their college degree attainment rate was significantly higher than those for students in all other family groups. More than a quarter of students living with divorced mothers [31%] and widowed mothers or fathers [27%] earned degrees. The rate for students with divorced mothers was significantly higher than those for students living with separated mothers [22%] and never-married mothers [19%].” (The figures were inserted for the sake of clarity.)

The study is also important for disproving commonly held fallacies.

Some argue that the essential factor is living with both parents in a stable relationship, regardless of whether the parents are married or not. This study refutes that conclusion. As stated above, 43% of those who lived with two married parents before college graduated. Only 21% of those who lived with both cohabiting parents attained their degrees.

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Others say that two married parent homes are more prosperous financially. The implication would be that this greater financial security was the more critical factor that allowed students to stay in college until graduation.

Dr. Zill dismisses this argument.  The economic disparity is not as significant as many would assume. Divorce decrees often assign the responsibility of paying for college to the non-custodial parent. Widows and widowers often have the proceeds of life insurance policies that can be used to provide higher education. In both of these situations, that extra source of money is not reflected in “family income” statistics.


While the study only measures college attendance and graduation, it implies a happy outcome for students in stable families. It also means great benefits for society as a whole.

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The study shows that stable traditional families matter. Education is a parents’ investment in the future for the family and society. While there are exceptions, highly educated people – whether their knowledge is academic or practical – make greater contributions to the community in which they live. They are also far more likely to raise educated children, and such benefits increase as those children have children and the generations advance.

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So, even though leftists hate to admit it, the best advice for parents who want to see their children graduate is to stay married.