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
Research has demonstrated the relationship between marriage and economic well-being, and even of the economic benefits of marrying younger than most in the U.S. find appropriate. We also find a fundamental relationship between marriage, chastity, and the worship of God—of the Judeo-Christian way of handling our sexual power—and how this plays out in marriage and family life and from there shapes the ability of American society to perform its major tasks.
Or, in other words:
Let us first first look at the correlation between family structure and education from the AddHealth Survey. Teenagers from always-intact, married families thrive significantly better than others in Math and English (see Figure 1). And from the same survey the work of Dr. Mark Regnerus of the University of Texas at Austin shows the power of worship in the performance of inner-city poor children.
For these children, weekly worship delivers school performance that is the equivalent of moving into a middle-class neighborhood, with all that better schools have to offer. Nothing in public policy comes close in yielding returns like these in education. So it is no surprise then that those who receive mostly A’s are more frequently children from intact married families that worship God weekly (see Figure 2).
If you were a betting man on whom would you bet to have the highest income 10 years from now?
Both common sense and myriad social science studies tell us that the better you do in school, the more you earn later when you join the workforce, and thus the more productive you are. Marriage also increases productivity. Controlling for all relevant factors, men’s productivity increases about 27% when they marry (see Figure 3). And the most productive segment of the workforce is “married men with three children or more.”
Controlling for all the relevant factors, married couples contribute at least 20% more to the tax pool than do their exact male and female non-married counterparts. It is actually in the interest of the federal government to encourage marriage and family; the retreat from marriage over the last few decades and the impact of that retreat on tax contributions means governments have lost significant revenues.
As a side note, when we discuss family breakdown, we hear a lot about the plight of the African-American family. But the picture of the retreat from marriage across four different levels of education (high-school dropout, high-school graduation, college education, and professional graduate education) goes a long way to explain much of this plight and its undermining of the gains made by the civil rights movement under Dr. Martin Luther King. The absence of marriage in black families makes a substantial difference. Only 17% of black teenagers reach age 17 living with their married biological parents.
Now we come to my nomination for the most important information in the social sciences. When we look at American marriages five years into the marriage, among both men and women who have never had any sexual partner other than their spouse (i.e. they are totally monogamous), 97-99% of them are still married to each other after five years. For women who have had one extra sexual partner (for most women, this is before marriage), only 64 % are still married. This is a drop of 33%, twice the rate of men. For women with three sexual partners, the rate of being still married drops further, to 55%, and then seems to plateau. For men the slope downwards is more gradual (see Figure 4).
In other words, the more partners a woman or man has had, the less the capacity to sustain marriage. This is an important and powerful indicator for both sexes, but even more so for women. Given the impact of chastity on out-of-wedlock births, and on divorce, and through these on income, productivity, and savings and especially on children, it is obvious that chastity is foundational for society and for all its major tasks, including the economy. And sexist though it sounds, this is even more true of the chastity of women. Again, this is perhaps the most important data in all of the social sciences.
It is likely no surprise to anyone that chastity is related to the worship of God. It is not an area of vast research, but here are a few illustrations. When examining the percentage of adults who have had intercourse with a “pick-up” in the previous year, we see that for those who attend church more than weekly, only 0.8% had been involved in a pick-up. This number goes up to 4% for those who attend more often than monthly, but to 6.3% for those who attend less than monthly and 6% for those who never attend church. Religious worship makes a rather substantial difference (see Figure 5).
Worship is protective even among the many American teenagers who have become sexually active early (see Figure 6). The more teenagers worship the more likely they are to abstain across all years of adolescence (the brackets giving some indication of the difference according to how much teenagers worship). As might be expected, age of first intercourse also impacts number of sexual partners throughout the life course. The earlier a girl has her first sexual intercourse, the more likely she is to have a significantly higher number of sexual partners in her lifetime. Girls who had their first intercourse at age 12, for example, had an average of 21 sexual partners throughout their lives. Compare this to girls who had first intercourse at age 26 and higher, who had an average of two sexual partners. The earlier a girl begins sexual intercourse, the more likely she is to have a child out of wedlock, getting her adult life off to a weakening start. Testosterone levels, which make a difference on age of first sexual intercourse for most boys, are also tied to frequency of worship of God. More specifically, worship lessens the influence of testosterone levels, and lack of worship unleashes the influence of testosterone. For adolescents as for adults, God and sexual control tend to go together.
Given these indications, it is no surprise that those in an intact marriage who worship God weekly are the most likely to have had only one sexual partner in their life time, while those who worship not at all are the least likely. A thriving society needs a culture of chastity—joyful chastity if it is to be a happy society; repressive chastity if it is to be a repressive society; no chastity if it is to be a dysfunctional society. Chastity matters, powerfully so.
Now, to review some of the points made so far and to connect the dots: Marriage impacts income (or poverty), chastity impacts marriage, and worship impacts chastity. This is timeless advice for a happy life, and for a thriving society. The good news (see Figure 7) is that although background does matter in these odds of establishing a happy marriage, it is not at all determinative. For those set on a happy marriage, they can overcome their teenage background to create their own marriages.
Next comes one of the great “counterfactuals” to the sexual revolution: Who has the most frequent sexual relations (weekly or more)? Again, those in intact married families that worship God weekly. (see Figure 8). Among sexually active Americans who is likely
To be the most satisfied?
To feel the most loved?
To feel the most taken care of sexually?
And last but definitely not least: To feel the most thrilled and excited? (see Figure 9)
In all cases those from intact marriages who worship God weekly: they are the sexual champions of America. If one adds to this data virginity at the time of marriage the scores get even higher. (Economics may be the dismal science, but sociology can get rather interesting.) This is, of course, in direct opposition to all that we hear in culture and the media today. The mores sex with strangers, the better your life will be, is the pronouncement of most of our culture. But the implication from the social sciences leads me to a non-social science conclusion: In the sexual, as in all other things, Christ is the real revolutionary, the real restorer who transformed man, woman, marriage, family, and society. The social sciences go a long way in illustrating that He keeps His promise: “Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you,” including marriage, income, savings, happiness, sexual enjoyment, and education.
By more or less following His teaching, Western culture operated with phenomenal strength for centuries. With the abandonment of this teaching, we see a weakening. Men, women, and children are made to belong together in an intact family. When they do, they thrive, and so does society. And when we reject each other and the worship of God, we wilt, and so does society.
Patrick F. Fagan, Ph.D., is Director of the Marriage and Religion Research Institute of the Family Research Council. This essay is adapted from a presentation given at World Congress of Families IX, October 27-30, 2015, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
 The charts in this essay come from from government survey data on the behaviors of Americans. All of this information can also be found at www.maari.us.
 Kate Antonovics and Robert Town, “Are All the Good Men Married? Uncovering the Sources of the Marital Wage Premium,” American Economic Review 94.2 (2004): 317-21, doi: 10.1257/0002828041301876.
 Data from the National Survey of Family Growth, 2011-2013.
 Data from the National Health and Social Life Survey, 1992.
 Data from the Adolescent Health Survey, 1999.
 Data from the General Social Survey, 1972-2006.