We found that being married is associated with a significant reduction in the probability of crime, averaging approximately 35 percent across key models in both the full sample of nearly 500 men examined from ages 17 to 32 and the targeted subsample of 52 men assessed from ages 17 to 70. These basic findings were robust, and thus consistent with the notion that marriage causally inhibits crime over the life course.
Why is marriage important in the process of desistance from crime? Supported by a mix of theory and consistent narrative materials derived from in-depth interviews with the same men studied here (see Laub and Sampson, 2003), we have argued that marriage has the potential to “knife- off” the past from the present in the lives of disadvantaged men and lead to one or more of the following: opportunities for investment in new relationships that offer social support, growth, and new social networks; structured routines that center more on family life and less on unstructured time with peers; forms of direct and indirect supervision and monitoring of behavior; or situations that provide an opportunity for identity transformation and that allow for the emergence of a new self or script, what Hill (1971) described as the “movement from a hell raiser to a family man.”
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Politicians often argue that the solution to reducing crime is more government programs or building bigger jails. Yet government cannot adequately address the underlying problems of criminal behavior or fill the holes in people’s lives.
What families need more than government programs are married fathers and mothers together in the home and faithful churches on the corner. Within families, children learn how to govern their lives. Churches help to reinforce these principles and strengthen the family in its role. When these institutions are weak or absent from peoples’ lives, society becomes increasingly dependent on government to impose restraint.
The evidence is overwhelming: When families are broken, children are more likely to engage in criminal behavior. Having both mother and father as mutually supporting authority figures in a child’s life to provide leadership and security is vitally important for a child in many ways, both physically and emotionally. Researchers find, for example, that:
Studies have found that children raised without a father are:
From education to personal health to career success, children who lack a father find themselves at a disadvantage to their peers raised in a two-parent household.