With the recently released numbers regarding poverty levels in America, public concern is heightened, in particular, regarding the plight of America’s impoverished children.
This concern should generate a focus on what might empower them to rise up from poverty—and, in turn, what factors promote stable marriages. Research clearly indicates that one of the most important factors in a child’s welfare is whether she is born to married parents. Children raised by single parents are seven times more likely to live in poverty than peers in families with two married parents.
At a time when unwed childbearing is at an all-time high, there is a ray of hope.
A recent study by analysts of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia found that couples’ shared religious practices—such as attending church together and, particularly, praying together—are related to higher levels of marital satisfaction and relationship quality.
Moreover, this connection was particularly beneficial among African Americans, who were found to be the most likely to share such religious activities. In fact, the religious factor was seen to offset other socioeconomic factors (such as low levels of financial satisfaction) that have been linked to lower levels of marital quality, narrowing the divide between races with regard to marital quality in the U.S.
Long before this link between prayer and marital satisfaction had been documented in academic circles, grassroots leaders of faith-based outreach throughout the nation have vouched for it. Take Pastor Shirley Holloway, for example, the founder of the House of Help/City of Hope in Washington, D.C., a mission launched to serve and empower individuals whose lives had been devastated by drug addiction, alcoholism, and other self-destructive behavior. While Holloway’s outreach provides treatment and counseling, it also includes providing “individuals that society has cast aside” with the “building blocks” to restore their lives—one of which is guidance in forming and strengthening their marriages.
“We’ve had more than 40 marriages and, of those, only three did not survive,” said Holloway, “Success comes from continued, consistent focus in the right direction. There are couples who came in homeless who are now homeowners.”
Among such couples are James and Angela Woods, each of whom arrived at the House of Help after years of devastating drug addiction. Through Holloway’s outreach, they found faith, reclaimed and rebuilt their lives, met each other, and married.
As they worked to address their challenges on a foundation of mutual faith and values, the Woods’ relationship grew in strength and resiliency, like forged steel. Now married for 10 years, James and Angela talk of their relationship with gratitude and a sense of commitment and responsibility that could be instructive for couples in all walks of life and income brackets.
“What we found out, during the tough times, is that we are on the same team—and we want to win,” said Angela, “Just like our lives had to be restored, it’s also a process with your marriage. You want the best marriage you can have. You want God’s best—the best that he can give.”
It should be noted that the link between a shared life of faith and marital satisfaction has positive effects beyond the immediate benefits of emotional and psychological health. Relationship satisfaction has implications for marital stability and longevity, and family structure is associated with numerous measures of socioeconomic well-being.
Not only are intact families significantly less likely to be in poverty than single-parent households, but family stability also has positive effects on the well-being and future prospects of children. Youths raised by single parents are more likely to exhibit a range of negative behaviors, while youths from intact families are more likely to succeed academically.
Moreover, marital stability has a ripple effect in the next generation, given that family structure is associated with youths’ expectations of marrying as well as the sustainability of their own marriages in the future.
In sum, stable families and the religious practices that strengthen marriage improve the financial prospects of parents and their children and strengthen the common good, promoting a healthy and enduring civil society.