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Sunday 16 May |
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Lots of siblings = low divorce rate?

Simcha Fisher - published on 08/14/13

Interesting little tidbit on CatholicCulture.org:

Sociologists from Ohio State University have found that children from large families have markedly lower divorce rates. The equation that emerged after a 40-year study, involving a sample of 57,000 American adults, was simple: The more siblings you had as a child, the less likely you were to be divorced as an adult. The researchers don’t offer an explanation for this phenomenon—in fact they seem to be stumped—but they know it’s not because the children from large families don’t marry. On the contrary, they’re more likely to marry, and more likely to stay married, than their small-family counterparts.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from listening to smart people argue, it’s that no study ever actually tells you anything definitively — or at least, by the time the headlines trickle down to laymen, there’s no way of telling what actually happened or what it means.

But as someone with seven siblings, married to a man with seven siblings, whose children each have eight siblings, this study caught my eye.  CatholicCulture.orgmakes a blithe conclusion about the causation:

We already know that among married couples who don’t use contraceptives, the rate of divorce approaches zero. Obviously these couples are more likely to have multiple children. So by eschewing contraceptives, a married couple is taking a huge step to guard against divorce—not only for themselves, but for their children as well.

I think it’s got to be more complicated than that.  It’s not as someone’s Essure doohickey backfires on day and then BAM, their worldview is transformed.  There has to be some steps in between (a) not using contraception and (b) having a good marriage.

I have long held that the non-contraceptive marriage is long-lasting because the non-contraceptive marriage is likely to be founded on religious faith, and that that is what holds the family together.

And it’s not pretty to think, but there must also be some couples who don’t contracept, who are religious, and who stay together despite abuse and serious disfunction, just because their community of religious friends and family would shun them if they divorced (yes, even with a legitimate annulment.  I’ve seen it happen).

On a more positive note, here are a few other things which must contribute to the longevity (and, it is to be hoped, the strength and happiness) of marriages between people with lots of siblings, religious or not:

There’s the example of other married couples.  If no one you know is married, what are you gonna do when you’re not getting along with your spouse?  Freak out, assume the marriage was a horrible mistake, and split up.  But if you’ve seen other people — people who are sort of like you, because they’re family — get past bad stuff, and if you can get their advice, then that’s invaluable.

There’s babysitters and other kinds of help.  Of course this assumes that your siblings are willing and able to help; but if there are lots of them, chances are someone will pitch in if you need something — a babysitter, a short loan, some baby clothes, an extra set of hands painting the house, or whatever.  Marriages always do better when there is help available.

And there’s the example of the long view of what marriage is for.  Very often, I hear married people with a very young family talking as if raising a family is some kind of 18-year project, where you spend X amount of dollars to achieve a satisfactory outcome.  That they’re doing something important but temporary when they have a child, and that they will be able to get back to their real lives once the kid leaves home.

It’s a lot harder to fall for this crap if you go to a huge family reunion where there is a big, unwieldy mess of cousins, aunts, and uncles; maybe your mother is pregnant at the same time as one of your sisters; maybe your niece is pregnant at the same time as her mother.  Maybe one family is staying with another family.  Some people are doing well, some not so great; some are following their plans, and others have blown so far off course, they can’t even recognize their former lives.  But they’re okay.  You see the family spread out in what my father used to refer to, in tones of mock horror, as “the rich tapestry of life.”

Once you see that, it’s a lot easier to remember that you’re in this for the long haul.  Not for your personal satisiaction, not to produce a successful offspring like a science project that you can fold up and put away at the end of the day . . . but because having a family is what people do, overall.

Well, what do you think? What have I missed?  I know I have an especially close and supportive family.  If you’re from a large family, what effect do you think it’s had on your marriage, for good or bad?

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