- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 17, 2005

Americans overwhelmingly say fathers are just as important as mothers for the proper development of children.

Also, nearly 90 percent of Americans surveyed agree that, “all things being equal,” it is better for children to be raised in a household that has a married mother and father.

These results, released yesterday by the National Fatherhood Initiative, show that Americans believe strongly in marriage, said Roland Warren, the group’s president.

The data also suggest that there is “strong support across the board” for the goals of healthy-marriage projects, said Norval Glenn, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin who conducted the survey of 1,500 people for the NFI.

At a panel discussion on the survey, Barbara Dafoe Whitehead said the results indicate that adults in their mid-20s need not be discouraged from marrying.

The “optimal age” for marrying appears to be from 23 to 27, said Mrs. Whitehead, co-director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. In contrast, couples who marry in their teens, or in their late 20s and early 30s, seem to have more problems.

Curtis Watkins and Nisa Muhammad, who work on marriage issues in the black community, said more positive education about marriage is needed, especially in low-income neighborhoods.

Only 3 percent of blacks surveyed by NFI said they weren’t married and had no interest in being married, said Mr. Watkins, who heads the East Capitol Center for Change in the District.

Black leaders shouldn’t be silent about the value of marriage, said Ms. Muhammad, founder of the Wedded Bliss Foundation. “We need people to root for our marriages.”

Promoting marriage also will be good for the nation economically, said Brookings Institution scholar Ron Haskins.

“There are only two ways known to man and God to reduce poverty: No. 1 is work and No. 2 is marriage,” he said.

With welfare reform, single mothers have seen their earnings rise, and if the nation could achieve the marriage rate of 1980, “we could reduce child poverty by almost 30 percent,” Mr. Haskins said.

The federal government has awarded more than $25 million in pro-marriage grants, but a proposed $300 million-a-year funding stream remains tied up in Congress.

The NFI study found that:

• Ninety-seven percent of respondents said fathers were as important as mothers for the proper development of children.

• Being romantically involved for a few years before marriage was better than marrying after a brief courtship.

• Couples who didn’t cohabit before marriage scored higher on marital success. Among couples who cohabited before marriage, those who moved in after they were engaged did better than those who moved in first and then decided to marry.

• Marital success increased with couples’ educational levels and religiosity.

• Marital success for couples was increased if their parents had not divorced during childhood years.

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