More Evidence for the Traditional Family

Scripture, Social Science, and Human Flourishing

Christians believe children are more likely to flourish with a married mom and dad at home -- but what does science have to say about it?

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John Stonestreet

When I was growing up, no one ever asked what a “family” was. It was assumed that everyone knew the answer. Well, I described just how much, and how quickly, times have changed in my new book with Sean McDowell called “Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage."

Dennis Prager summed it up well when he said, “In one generation we’ve gone from ‘father knows best’ to ‘father doesn’t matter’.” Christians and other traditionalists on this issue will say a family consists of a married man and woman and any kids who come along. Others will say that definition is too restrictive, that a family can be an unmarried man and woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Others wonder why we restrict the family unit to two adults at all and advocate a kind of model known as polyamory.

“Who are you,” they pointedly ask us, “to tell people who they can love?”

In the old days, we could point to the Bible as well as the thousands of years of history to support our answer. But what do we do when people either reject the witness of Scripture and history, or willfully change its clear message?daily_commentary_01_29_15

Well, there is yet another source of authority that most of our neighbors still respect. It’s called “science.” And while empirical data are limited in what they can tell us about moral questions such as what makes a marriage, they can tell us a lot about what works in the real world.

And that’s why the findings of Mexican sociologist Fernando Pliego are so interesting. Pliego, a researcher at the Autonomous National University of Mexico, looked at 351 academic studies in thirteen countries on five continents.

According to one summary of Pliego’s research, “The members of … traditional families enjoy better physical health, less mental illness, higher incomes, and steadier employment. They and their children live in better housing, enjoy more loving and cooperative relationships, and report less physical or sexual violence.”

It goes on: “Moreover, when the bonds between parents and children are more positive, drug, alcohol and tobacco use is lower, children are better socialized and cooperative, they commit fewer crimes, and they perform better in school.”

Now this would be old news to Chuck Colson, of course, who worked in prisons for thirty-four years with Prison Fellowship. In fact, every person I’ve ever talked with who works in prison points to the devastation wrought when young men don’t have a father at home. Chuck once said, “Every time I set a foot inside a prison, I see the results of splintered families. So many of the prisoners I talk to tell me about growing up without dad.” Intact families matter.

“Professor Pliego,” according to an English-language summary of his work, “found that 89.4 percent of the studies concluded that intact families produced a higher level of well-being than other family types. Only one in ten claimed that all family structures produced similar outcomes. And only a negligible fraction of the studies—around 1 percent—claimed that other ‘family’ structures produced a better outcome.”

So based on a huge sampling of the social science data, it is fair to say that the family as defined by Scripture has been proven to be best, if we judge it by its effects on the people involved, based on the many measures of social well-being.


Now it would be easy to take all these 351 studies and bludgeon our opponents with them—after all, by any reasonable measure of the data, we’ve won the argument about marriage. But clearly the data has not won the culture, and that’s because winning an argument is not the same as winning hearts.

As we’ve said before, Chuck used to talk about the gospel being the “great proposal,” a banquet of righteousness, peace, and joy. We don’t impose; we propose. We don’t need to browbeat anyone into the kingdom. In fact, we can’t. So since we’re talking about marriage, let’s invite our neighbors to the wedding feast of the One who designed marriage in the first place.

Further Reading and Information

More Evidence for the Traditional Family: Scripture, Social Science, and Human Flourishing
As John has pointed out, the positive benefits to children raised in an intact family with a married mom and dad are scientifically documented. While this has always been the teaching of the Church, we can use this study as a tool for sharing the biblical concept of family with non-believers in our spheres of influence. A good resource for information on marriage and the family is the Manhattan Declaration, linked below. Another resource is John's book on same-sex "marriage," available at our online bookstore.


351 Studies from 13 Nations Prove Benefits of Households with a Dad, a Mom and Their Kids
Steven W. Mosher | Aleteia.org | January 20, 2015

Healthy Marriages, Healthy Society
Chuck Colson| BreakPoint.org | January 14, 2010

Social club in traditional family: study
Razon.com | February 23, 2012

Manhattan Declaration

Available at the online bookstore

Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God's Design for Marriage
John Stonestreet, Sean McDowell | Baker | July 2014


Where are the questions?
My personal frustrations with this issue are that nobody is asking questions, and it very much seems to be exactly what John has stated elsewhere, that one side is talking about what marriage IS, why the institution exists, or what the social contributions/significance of marriage and family are (too many Christians can't really talk about these issues coherently), while the other side is talking about how they FEEL about those things. I've yet to hear any questions raised in a secular setting about what marriage IS and WHY it is important or how it OUGHT to be defined that helps serve this purpose. So many that I encounter (mostly online) will quickly say that marriage is a "right" everyone has (and the secularists generally argues these rights come from the Constitution and not God – who is of legal age of course – that, for now anyhow, includes only pairs of people...) and has never, and will never, have anything to do with children. Which seems to me to only beg the questions nobody is asking and I get scoffed at for raising... Christian or non, most seem to just shrug or get irritated. [sigh]

And for sure, I feel you KEITH, and I am terribly sorry about your loss. I've no kids of my own, but have lost friends who were young and have seen the grief in the faces of the parents... and even my own mothers face when an accident left me paralyzed. With that being said, social institutions are meant to serve the social good — the good of the whole, and to support and encourage the ideal, but experience surely teaches us all that there is no perfect formula that can ensure a happy ending. Extremes are often hard to avoid, especially when framing an argument in just a few minutes, and this can sometimes give a false overall impression or seem callous or overly idealistic (especially to outsiders). In debating these topics with others I am learning just how careful one needs to be and how difficult it can be to be thorough (pro-gay advocates search for loopholes and will create one if you don't leave one!)—and sometimes I don't know if I am bludgeoning people (I try to cut to the chase and get folks to actually answer some questions) or if the usual accusations of being hateful and bigoted and intolerant and unloving are just people's way of avoiding the issues—and relying upon their emotions and the emotional response that the usual labels imposed upon all dissenters generally engender.

This topic is in the media everyday—and I think the implications will be huge—but in Christian circles there seems to be mostly silence—while we need to take care of our own homes, marriages, and sexual behaviors first so that we can model marriage for the rest of the world—something we aren't currently doing. Sadly, I think we are about to get steamrolled on the marriage issue and that there is a tsunami of debauchery coming towards America's shores that will greatly erode if not decimate our freedoms and religions liberties... (Is that overstated, or a genuine possibility?)

I am so sorry for your loss. Recently, we’ve talked on BreakPoint about the need for the church to wrestle with mental illness on a deeper level. Also, thanks for pointing out that formulas for success do not exist. Couldn’t agree more with that statement. God bless you!
disclaimer needed
As the parent of a son who took his life 15 1/2 months ago, I must say that stories similar to this, while they do show the preponderance of evidence, seem to project the idea that following the "formula" will always yield positive results. This is not true, as the biblical accounts of the first families shows. While the importance of intact families and involved parents should be stated emphatically, often these messages raise in me the accusation "What did I do wrong?". Maybe if I had been a little MORE involved or taken a little MORE interest.
I understand the need to inform others of the biblical family structure. But i have to remind myself that it is still no guarantee for desired results.
Thank you for your ministry.
Coinciding sources
It's interesting that after listening to today's broadcast, the message on my daily calendar directly coincided. The calendar is called "Dads", and is published by Garborg's, Inc, copyright 1992, 1993, 1995. Here is today's quote: "Study after study confirms that children have the best chance of success when both parents are present. Fatherhood must be re-emphasized." - Dr. James Dobson and Gary Bauer So this information has been long known, but today's broadcast was very informative about the overwhelming evidence from a scientific viewpoint.