- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Urban mothers who have illegitimate children and attend church frequently are more likely to get married within a year of giving birth, according to a study released yesterday.

They also tend to receive more moral support than scorn from churches, despite giving birth out of wedlock.

Unwed mothers "are 90 percent more likely to marry within a year of that birth if they attend church frequently," compared with less-attending urban mothers, said the report, called "Then Comes Marriage?"

The study said the decline in marriages "has been concentrated among poor and minority populations," but usually has been explained in economic terms, not by looking at cultural institutions.

"One of the more surprising findings is that one-third of all unwed urban mothers are frequent churchgoers," said W. Bradford Wilcox, author of the report and assistant professor of sociology at the University of Virginia.

"This means that many unmarried mothers are more integrated into the social fabric of their communities than we once thought" thanks to the support of churches, he said.

The study, which looked at the responses of 3,886 married and unmarried mothers in the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study, a major urban survey, was conducted for the University of Pennsylvania's Center for Research on Religion and Urban Civil Society.

The study is billed as the first to "offer a quantitative analysis of the association between religion and marriage among urban parents."

It found that urban mothers who attend church several times a month or more are twice as likely to be married at the time of birth than less-active urban mothers.

"Religious attendance is about as important as socioeconomic factors such as income in predicting marriage among urban parents," Mr. Wilcox said.

The Rev. Cedric Brown, associate pastor at Great Mt. Calvary Holy Church in the District, said the findings seem to match his experience in urban ministry.

"In terms of unwed mothers, we don't coerce them to get married," Mr. Brown said, adding that instead they help them to make "the best decision" and encourage "the father to take responsibility for the child."

Many of the women and men in this situation are young and need other kinds of guidance and support, Mr. Brown said.

He agreed that regularly attending women and men are more likely to have children in marriage, and that youth work is the foundation for preparing young adults to form two-parent families.

"We highly esteem the institution of marriage," Mr. Brown said. "We feel it is to the advantage to children to have two parents at home. And that's why we have a thriving youth and young adult department."

The new study is part of a growing body of research spurred by the debate over the Bush administration's faith-based initiative, which wants to make government grants available to ministries that provide welfare services or try to solve social problems.

Earlier this month, for example, the Department of Labor was the first Bush Cabinet agency to award grants under the charitable choice provision, amounting to $17.5 million given to 29 organizations in 12 states.

Religious groups doing welfare and family work "should not be discriminated against when applying for government grants," Secretary of Labor Elaine L. Chao said.

Former mayor of Philadelphia, the Rev. W. Wilson Goode, said the new study can become "the basis for the intentional involvement of religious leaders in initiating and sustaining strong marriages."

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