The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

Spring
2010

Marriage vs. Mayhem


Bryce J. Christensen and Robert W. Patterson


Sociologists have long understood that alcohol and drug use foster crime. But drawing on data collected from a large national sample collected in twenty-four urban centers, researchers at the University of Houston identify the disappearance of wedlock as one of the keys to understanding the linkage between substance use and urban crime.

As expected, the data indicate that drug use and alcohol use both predict urban crime (p<.001 for both statistical links). But further statistical analysis establishes that the “substance abuse/aggression nexus” does not develop among very many urban young men protected by “individual social attachments to marriage and the labor force.”

Marriage, in particular, emerges in the Houston scholars’ statistical model as a social institution that makes men bad prospects for pushers—and for street-gang recruiters. Married urban men are far less likely to commit an “aggressive crime” than are their single and divorced peers (p<.001 for comparisons with both groups).

The Houston scholars conclude by arguing that when alcohol and drugs turn urban young men toward crime, this pathological linkage actually reflects “social disorganization” fostering both substance use and criminal behavior. The researchers see such social disorganization characterized by “poverty, joblessness, welfare dependency, female-headed families, declining marriage, illegitimate births, and crime that result in multiple, interlocking social problems.”

So the evidence continues to mount indicating that wedlock protects society from destructive behaviors.

(Avelardo Valdez et al., “Aggressive Crime, Alcohol and Drug Use, and Concentrated Poverty in 24 U.S. Urban Areas,” The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse 33 [2007]: 595–603.)

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